MANILA — The strongest typhoon in the world this year and possibly the most powerful ever to hit land battered the Philippines on Friday, forcing more than a million people to flee, cutting power lines and blowing apart houses.
Haiyan, a category-5 super typhoon, scoured the northern tip of Cebu Province and headed west towards Boracay island, both of them tourist destinations, after lashing the central islands of Leyte and Samar with 170 mph wind gusts and 15-19 foot waves.
Three people were killed and seven injured, national disaster agency spokesman Rey Balido told a news briefing at the main army base in Manila. The death toll could rise as reports come in from stricken areas.
Power and communications in the three large island provinces of Samar, Leyte and Bohol were almost completely down but the government and telephone service providers promised to restore them within 24 hours.
Authorities warned that more than 12 million people were at risk, including residents of Cebu City, which has a population of about 2.5 million, and areas still reeling from a deadly 2011 storm and a 7.2-magnitude quake last month.
“The super typhoon likely made landfall with winds near 195 mph (313 kph). This makes Haiyan the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at U.S.-based Weather Underground.
Typhoons and cyclones of that magnitude can blow apart storm shelters with the pressure they create, which can suck walls out and blow roofs off buildings.
“Power is off all across the island and the streets are deserted,” said
Lionel Dosdosa, an International Organization for Migration coordinator on Bohol island, the epicentre of an Oct. 15 earthquake that killed 222 people and displaced hundreds of thousands, said power was off and streets were deserted.
“It’s dark and gloomy, alternating between drizzle and heavy rain,” he said.
About a million people took shelter in 29 provinces, after President Benigno Aquino appealed to people in Haiyan’s path to leave vulnerable areas, such as along river banks, coastal villages and mountain slopes.
“Our school is now packed with evacuees,” an elementary school teacher in Southern Leyte who only gave her name as Feliza told a radio station. Leyte and Southern Leyte are about 390 miles southeast of Manila.
Roger Mercado, governor of Southern Leyte province, said no one should underestimate the storm.
“It is very powerful,” Mercado told DZBB radio. “We lost power and all roads are impassable because of fallen trees. We just have to pray.”
In Samar province, links with some towns and villages had been cut, officials said.
“The whole province has no power,” Samar Governor Sharee Tan told Reuters by telephone. Fallen trees, toppled electric poles and other debris blocked roads, she said.
Authorities suspended ferry services and fishing and shut 13 airports. Nearly 450 domestic and eight international flights were suspended.
Schools, offices and shops in the central Philippines were closed, with hospitals, soldiers and emergency workers preparing for rescue operations. Twenty navy ships and various military aircraft including three C-130 cargo planes and helicopters were on standby.
The state weather bureau said Haiyan was expected to move past the Philippines on Saturday and out over the South China Sea, where it could become even stronger and threaten Vietnam or China.
The world’s strongest recorded typhoon, cyclone or hurricane to make landfall was Hurricane Camille in 1969, which hit Mississippi with 305 kph (190 mph) winds, said Weather Underground’s Masters.
An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year.
Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three coastal towns on Mindanao, killed 1,100 people and caused damage estimated at $1.04 billion.
Haiyan is the 24th such storm to hit the Philippines this year.