AT least four people have died and more than 70,000 people forced to flee as one of the strongest typhoons on record slammed into the central Philippines, setting off landslides and knocking out power and communication lines.
Typhoon Haiyan raced across a string of islands from east to west – Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Panay – and lashed beach communities with over 200 kph (125 mph) per hour winds. Nearly 720,000 people were forced to leave their homes.
Owing to severed communications, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage. At least two people were electrocuted in storm-related accidents, one person was killed by a fallen tree and another was struck by lightning, official reports said.
Southern Leyte Governor Roger Mercado said the super typhoon triggered landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and ripped roofs off houses around his residence.
The dense clouds and heavy rains made the day seem almost as dark as night, he said.
“When you’re faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray,” Mr Mercado said, adding that mayors in the province had not called in to report any major damage.
“I hope that means they were spared and not the other way around,” he said. “My worst fear is there will be massive loss of lives and property.”
Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 235 kph (147 mph) with gusts of 275 kph (170 mph) when it made landfall. That makes it the strongest typhoon this year, said Aldczar Aurelio of the government’s weather bureau.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the disaster response agency, said a typhoon of similar strength that hit the Philippines in 1990 killed 508 people and left 246 missing, but this time authorities had taken pre-emptive evacuation and other measures to minimise casualties.
By early evening yesterday Haiyan was centred to the west of Aklan province on Panay Island, 320 kms (200 miles) south of Manila, after blasting the island resort of Boracay.
Forecasters said the storm was expected to move out over water south of Mindoro island and into the South China Sea today, heading toward Vietnam.
Among the evacuees were thousands of residents of Bohol who had been camped in tents and other makeshift shelters after a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit the island province last month.
Relief workers said they were struggling to find ways to deliver food and other supplies, with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees.
Dozens of flights in the central and southern Philippines were cancelled. A storm surge estimated at 5 metres (15 feet) damaged a seaside airport in Leyte’s Tacloban city. Airport workers moved to the tower and were safe but no other details had been reported because communications were cut by the typhoon, aviation official John Andrews said.
“They’ve been incommunicado. The last message we got from them was that the airport was ruined,” he added.
President Benigno Aquino III had assured the public of war-like preparations, with three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.