MANILA, Philippines -- A typhoon packing winds of more than 160 mph battered the coconut-producing central Philippines, killing a 6-year-old boy Thursday and unleashing flash floods that forced the evacuation of 10,000 people, authorities said.
The Red Cross said a 6-year-old boy was killed before dawn Thursday when an uprooted coconut tree fell on him in the Manila suburb of San Pablo.
Red Cross officials also said Typhoon Betty leveled trees and crops, demolished houses and knocked down power lines, but authorities said the extent of the damage was not clear because communications were cut to outlying areas.
Authorities said it was the worst typhoon to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Irma hit in November 1981, killing 470 people.
The Manila Weather Bureau said the typhoon swept across the northern section of Samar island, the nation's third largest, with peak winds of 162 mph. Betty's strength diminished to 137 mph as it pounded northwest through the interior.
The weather bureau located the typhoon at 7 a.m. Thursday (7 p.m EDT Wednesday) in the waters off Batangas province, 87 miles west-southwest of Manila. It was heading toward the South China Sea at 15 mph.
Betty, which developed in the Pacific, was expected to strike 25 provinces, including populous metropolitan Manila, before moving out into the South China Sea late Thursday.
In the central Philippines, the typhoon caused flash floods and forced thousands to flee their homes in the Maguindanao and Albay provinces south of Manila, reports from the area said. At least 10,000 people were evacuated.
Authorities shut down schools and offices in affected areas. Ships were told to batten down, and residents in low-lying areas ordered to prepare to evacuate their homes.
Railway services to the Bicol region south of Luzon were suspended. Philippine Airlines called off 11 domestic flights to affected areas that had been placed under typhoon alert. But operations at Manila International Airport remained normal.
At the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base, Chief Petty Officer James O'Leary said the Navy ordered 18 ships to move out of the giant logistics center and repair yard of the 7th fleet, 60 miles north of Manila.
'We just want to get the ships out of harm's way,' O'Leary said by telephone. 'On shore, we are boarding up windows. We have advised residents to store drinking water and to have extra candles, batteries and canned goods.'
Similar precautions were being taken at the nearby U.S. Clark Air Base, which broadcast an alert on its television station to warn servicemen.
Betty is the seventh of the typhoon season and the first to hit the Philippines this year. An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year.
Typhoons, which develop west of the international dateline, are a rotating wind system with a minimum sustained wind speed of 74 mph or more. They are called hurricanes when spawned east of the dateline.