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Typhoon Mitag veers toward northern Philippines

A powerful typhoon in the Philippines veered from its course and swirled towards the northern part f the country. Government evacuates citizens.

In Vietnam, authorities began returning evacuees to their homes after a separate typhoon headed for the country weakened into a storm and changed course.

Typhoon Mitag barreled towards the northwestern Philippine provinces of Aurora and Isabela on the main island of Luzon on Saturday, after earlier targeting the eastern coast, said chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz.

Packing sustained winds of 175 kph (109 mph) with gusts of 210 kph (131 mph), Typhoon Mitag could make landfall in the Aurora-Isabela area late Sunday. It was moving at 11 kph (7 mph).

Soldiers, police and border guards in Vietnam helped people return to their homes on Saturday after Typhoon Hagibis weakened and changed course, officials said.

The typhoon, which left 13 people dead before leaving the Philippines earlier in the week, was downgraded to a tropical storm late Friday and headed out to the sea, the national weather forecast center said.

Philippine forecasters warned of storm surges and a rise in the sea level in areas directly affected by the typhoon and heavy rains and strong winds elsewhere.

More than 200,000 people have fled or been evacuated to temporary shelters in Albay, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes provinces on the southern tip of Luzon, said Anthony Golez, deputy director of the Office of Civil Defense.

Philippine forecasters said Mitag could intensify into a "super typhoon" with more than 220 kph (138 mph) winds by the time it makes landfall.

Aurora Gov. Bellaflor Angara Castillo appealed to her constituents to cooperate with authorities in the evacuation.

"We must help each other," she said over radio DZRH. "Those whom I have asked to evacuate from the coasts and riverbanks, please do so now. Let us not wait for tomorrow because that may be too late."

There were no immediate reports on the number of people who have moved to temporary shelters in Aurora and Isabela.

Officials expressed a sigh of relief in Albay, which is still recovering from flash floods and volcanic mudslides caused by Typhoon Durian that killed more than 1,000 people last year.

"To me, first of all we have relieved the psychological stress among the people when we evacuated them and eased their fears," Cedric Daep, the provincial disaster executive officer, told The Associated Press.

"When the typhoon changed its course, they were even more relieved," he said. "Even though the people were tired from the evacuation, they feel good because apart from being safe, their property and livelihoods were not destroyed."

In the South China Sea , 25 Filipino sailors were missing after a their fishing boat capsized in rough seas, a Chinese maritime official said Friday. Thirty other crew members were rescued and search teams were dispatched to look for the missing, said a man at the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center who gave only his surname, Zhang.

Philippine coast guard spokesman Lt. Armand Balilo said there was no new word Saturday on the fate of the sailors.