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   MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of villagers in the central Philippines, including those from a province devastated by a recent earthquake, were being evacuated Thursday as one of the most powerful typhoons globally this year approaches.

   Typhoon Haiyan was already packing sustained winds of 215 kilometers (134 miles) per hour and ferocious gusts of 250 kph (155 mph), and could pick up strength over the Pacific Ocean before it slams into the eastern Philippine province of Eastern Samar on Friday, according to government forecasters.

   The U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said it was the strongest tropical cyclone in the world this year, although Cyclone Phailin, which hit eastern India on Oct. 12, packed winds of up to 222 kph (138 mph) and stronger gusts.

   Governors and mayors were supervising the evacuation of thousands of residents away from landslide- and flood-prone communities in several provinces where the typhoon is expected to pass, said Eduardo del Rosario, head of the government's main disaster-response agency.

   President Benigno Aquino III has ordered officials to aim for zero casualties, a goal often broken in an archipelago lashed by about 20 storms each year, most of them deadly and destructive. Haiyan is the 24th such storm to hit the Philippines this year.

   Edgardo Chatto, the governor of Bohol island province in the central Philippines, where an earthquake last month killed more than 200 people, said that soldiers, police and rescue units were helping displaced residents, including thousands still in small tents, move to shelters. The typhoon was not forecast to directly hit Bohol but the province was still expected to be battered by strong wind and rain, government forecaster Jori Loiz said.

   Army troops were helping transport food packs and other relief goods in hard-to-reach communities and rescue helicopters are on stand-by, the military said.

   "My worst fear is that the eye of this typhoon will hit us. I hope we will be spared," Chatto told The Associated Press by telephone.

   Haiyan was forecast to barrel through the country's central region Friday and Saturday before it blows toward the South China Sea on Sunday, heading toward Virtnam. It was not expected to hit the densely populated capital, Manila, in the north, Loiz said.

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