Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and villages across the northern Philippines on Wednesday as a powerful typhoon threatened to pummel the region with record-breaking flooding and landslides, officials said.

Some 5 million people were at high risk within the 100-kilometre radius of Super Typhoon Haima, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The storm was headed west-north-west with maximum sustained winds of 225 kilometres per hour (kph) and gusts of up to 315 kph, the Philippines' weather bureau said.

Landfall is expected overnight between 11 pm and 2 am (1500 to 1800 GMT) over the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela, the bureau added.

Haima is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines since November 2013, when Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and left more than a thousand missing in the eastern Philippines.

A super typhoon, distinguished in the Philippines as a tropical cyclone with maximum wind speed exceeding 220 kph, is akin to what the National Hurricane Center calls a Category-4 or -5 hurricane.

"The typhoon is very strong and destructive because of its large diameter," said Rene Paciente, an assistant chief at the weather bureau.

The typhoon could generate storm surges as high as 5 metres, he added.

The weather bureau issued its maximum-level storm warning for four northern provinces and put 33 other provinces, including metropolitan Manila, on lower alerts.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in China for a state visit, said the government had prepared for destruction and the possible loss of life but hoped that it would not be as bad as predicted.

"We are ready for everything," he told reporters in Beijing. "We only pray that we be spared of a destruction such as in the ... past which brought agony and suffering to our people. But we are ready."

The country's national disaster management office said emergency teams had been put on alert and that relief packs, medicine and other supplies had been distributed near the affected areas.

An average of 20 typhoons batter the Philippines every year. Haiyan, the worst to hit the archipelago in decades, was one of the most powerful storms in the world to make landfall.

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