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PHILIPPINES — Marines, sailors and equipment from Okinawa and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan — in the Philippines for military maneuvers — took shelter Sunday evening in advance of Super Typhoon Cimaron, which was to batter central Luzon island early Monday morning about 100 miles north of Clark Air Base.

Cimaron blasted roofs off homes as it made landfall late Sunday in the northern Philippines, with officials saying it may be one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the country. With winds gusting up to 143 mph, Cimaron roared across an impoverished mountainous area home to some 1.7 million people.

“This is probably one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit the country,” Health Secretary Francisco Duqueso said at a news conference aired on Manila radio stations.

The 22nd storm of the northwest Pacific’s tropical cyclone season slammed into Luzon’s central-east coast just before midnight Sunday, packing sustained 161-mph winds and 196-mph gusts — equal to a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Some 5,700 Marines and sailors were on Luzon participating in Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercise FY ’07, due to wrap up Tuesday, exercise spokesman Capt. Burrell Parmer said.

They were training at Clark, Subic Bay and other facilities around southern Luzon — along with three Navy ships, the USS Essex, Juneau and Harper’s Ferry; and aircraft including KC-130 tankers, F/A-18 Hornet fighter-attack craft and AV-8B Harriers.

“All Marines and sailors have been transported from field environments and placed into buildings,” said Maj. Dan Yaroslaski, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade operations officer.

CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters were hangared and KC-130s and F/A-18s were returned to their home stations in Japan, while elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the Essex, Harper’s Ferry and Juneau “have pushed out to sea to safer waters in preparation,” Yaroslaski said.

At midnight Sunday, Cimaron churned 167 miles northeast of Manila, rumbling west-northwest at 11½ mph. It weakened slightly as it interacted with land and made its closest point of approach, 150 miles north of Manila and 100 north of Clark and Subic.

“We expect around 35-knot (40-mph) winds” at Fort Ramon Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province and Clark Air Base in Pampanga province in southern Luzon, Yaroslaski said.

Cimaron, a Tagalog word for Filipino wild ox, is forecast to churn back over open water, the South China Sea, and regain strength before gradually diminishing as it tracks toward Vietnam.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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