(CNN) – Super Typhoon Haiyan — one of the strongest storms recorded on the planet — smashed into island after island as it plowed across the central Philippines on Friday, threatening millions of people.
It left devastation in its wake, flooding streets and knocking out power and communication networks in many areas. Three people were reported dead, more than 100,000 took refuge in evacuation centers and hundreds of flights were canceled.
The storm brought tremendously powerful winds roaring ashore as it made landfall on Samar, a hilly island in the region of Eastern Visayas.
With sustained winds of 315 kph (195 mph) and gusts as strong as 380 kph (235 mph), Haiyan was probably the strongest tropical cyclone to hit land anywhere in the world in recorded history. It will take further analysis after the storm passes to establish whether it is a record.
After Samar, the typhoon slammed into four other Philippine islands as it barreled across the archipelago.
Maryann Zamora, a field communications specialist for the charity World Vision, said her organization “has been working through so many disasters, so many typhoons — but this is quite different.”
“This is the strongest I ever felt so far,” she said by phone from the island of Cebu.
Category 5 strength
Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, appeared to retain much of its terrifying force as it moved west over the country, with sustained winds of 295 kph (185 mph), gusts as strong as 360 kph (225 mph). Haiyan’s wind strength makes it equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane.
Video footage from on the ground in the Philippines showed streets flooded with debris and howling winds hurling metal sheets through the air.
Gov. Roger Mercado of Southern Leyte, a province in Eastern Visayas close to the storm’s path, said Friday morning that “all roads” were impassable because of fallen trees. He said it was too soon to gauge the level of devastation caused by Haiyan.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage,” Mercado said. “We are trying to estimate this. We are prepared, but this is really a wallop.”
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said Friday that so far three people had been confirmed dead and seven injured. With sea travel suspended in large parts of the country, more than 3,000 travelers were stranded in ports, the council said.
The typhoon was forecast to move away from the Philippines late Friday or early Saturday and head out into the South China Sea in the direction of Vietnam
Forecasters predicted that it would maintain super typhoon intensity throughout its passage over the Philippines. A super typhoon has surface winds that sustain speeds of more than 240 kph (150 mph) for at least a minute, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Haiyan was so large in diameter that at one point, its clouds were affecting two-thirds of the country, which stretches more than 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles). Tropical-storm-force winds extended 240 kilometers from the typhoon’s center.
‘Very real danger’
Ahead of the typhoon’s arrival, thousands of people had been relocated away from particularly vulnerable areas in Tacloban City, which is situated in a coastal area of the region that bore the initial brunt of the storm.
Communications with Tacloban, which has a population of around 200,000, were disrupted after the typhoon struck. Video aired by CNN affiliate ABS-CBN showed streets in the city flooded with water and debris.
In a speech Thursday, President Benigno S. Aquino III warned residents of the “calamity our countrymen will face in these coming days.”
“Let me repeat myself: This is a very real danger, and we can mitigate and lessen its effects if we use the information available to prepare,” he said.
Authorities have aircraft ready to respond, and officials have placed relief supplies in the areas that are expected to get hit, Aquino said.
“The effects of this storm can be eased through solidarity,” he said.
Earthquake survivors vulnerable
Authorities warned provinces across the country to be prepared for possible flash floods, landslides and a storm surge as high as seven meters (23 feet). About 125,000 people nationwide were moved to evacuation centers
Some of the most vulnerable people are those living in temporary shelters on the central Philippine island of Bohol, which experienced heavy wind and rain Friday but was spared a direct hit by Haiyan.
Last month, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit the island, killing at least 222 people, injuring nearly 1,000 and displacing about 350,000, according to authorities.
“This has been a quake hit area, for the past three weeks people are still experiencing aftershocks,” said Aaron Aspi, a communications specialist in Bohol for World Vision. “and at the same time these rains are giving them a really hard time.”
“Most of them are advised to evacuate to sturdy structures,” he said. “But there are a few thousand displaced families in quake hit areas that are still staying in makeshift tents and now that the super typhoon is here it is really heart breaking to see them struggling.”
Aspi said many peoples’ tents were drenched but they were still too afraid to relocate to enclosed structures because of the aftershocks.
Beach resort threatened
Another island near the storm’s path is the popular beach resort of Boracay. Some tourists there were cutting their vacations short Thursday to get away from the possible danger.
Ross Evans, an aviation professional from Florida, said there was “a definite urgency and panic” among the long lines of holidaymakers waiting for boats to get off Boracay on Thursday.
Speaking by phone before his flight to Manila took off, he said he felt “horrible” for those who may end up stuck in the storm’s path.
Evans said he and his travel companions, who are leaving the Philippines two days earlier than planned, “feel very fortunate to have the ability to make arrangements to be safe.”
Situated near an area of the Pacific Ocean where tropical cyclones form, the Philippines regularly suffers severe storm damage.
An average of 20 typhoons hit the archipelagic nation every year, and several of those cause serious damage.
In December, Typhoon Bopha wreaked widespread devastation on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The storm, the most powerful to hit the country that year, is estimated to have killed as many as 1,900 people.
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