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Typhoon nears Philippines

Forecasters disagreed on the storm's path. Hundreds of thousands of residents fled.

MANILA, Philippines - Hundreds of thousands of people across a wide stretch of the Philippines sought refuge Friday in churches, schools, and other evacuation centers as the island nation braced for a powerful typhoon.

About 50 provinces covering more than half the archipelago could be at risk from Typhoon Hagupit, including many communities that were devastated by last year's deadly Typhoon Haiyan, officials said.

Hagupit was expected to make landfall late Saturday, probably on the eastern island of Samar.

Forecasters differed on the route it could take from there, with the state weather agency predicting it would cut across the country's central islands, and the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center suggesting a more northerly route that could include the southern outskirts of Manila, the capital.

Although the storm appeared to be weakening as it approached the coast, officials warned it could still bring dangerous winds, rain and storm surges. On Friday, local meteorologists clocked gusts of 143 m.p.h.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development said at least half a million people had fled their homes, and there were plans to move more ahead of the storm, which is known in the Philippines as Ruby.

Fred Padernos, a father of five in Tacloban, the city hit hardest by Haiyan, said his family was sheltering in a four-story building, where they had rented space with others. Last year, Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges trapped the family on home's second floor.

By Friday evening, the weather was ominous.

"We are feeling the strong wind already," Padernos said.

Government officials and international aid organizations said they had learned lessons from Haiyan, which destroyed about one million homes, displaced four million people, and left more than 7,300 dead and missing.

"Nobody is taking any chances this time ," said Bradley Mellicker, of the International Organization for Migration.