The Filipino government on Thursday ordered a mass evacuation of hillside homes and coastal areas along the projected path of Typhoon Haiyan, which is expected to pummel the archipelago this weekend with maximum sustained winds of 215 kph (133 mph) and gusts of up to 250 kph (155 mph).

The Philippines' meteorological service, PAGASA, said in a press conference that Yolanda - the local name for the typhoon - has gained strength in recent hours and is moving toward the country's east coast at a speed of 33 kph (20 mph).

Some 40 provinces are on alert, five of which - Eastern Samar, Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte and Biliran - are on maximum alert.

Haiyan, which is 600 kilometers (372 miles) in diameter and is projected to cross the center of the Philippines from east to west, has been classified by PAGASA as a "super-typhoon" (the name given to storms with winds exceeding 240 kph).

Filipino President Benigno Aquino gave a nationwide address Thursday warning that the typhoon was "expected to be more intense than Bopha," which left 1,800 people dead or missing in the Philippines last December.

U.S. meteorologists, for their part, have described Haiyan as the world's most powerful typhoon so far this year.

The storm is expected to make landfall Friday morning and exit the Philippines area on Sunday.

Local governments in several provinces have canceled classes, while the coast guard has urged all boats to remain at port.

Airlines, meanwhile, have already suspended a half-dozen flights and many more are likely to be canceled after the typhoon makes landfall. EFE