Super typhoon lashes Philippines
275km/h winds, 6m waves force more than a million people to flee
MANILA: One of the worst typhoons on record whipped the Philippines yesterday, killing at least three people and terrifying millions as monster winds tore apart homes.
Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into coastal communities on the central island of Samar, about 600km southeast of Manila, with maximum sustained winds of about 315km/h.
It then swept across the central Philippines, destroying phone and power lines, as well as homes and vital infrastructure, causing a massive communications blackout.
“It was frightening. The wind was so strong, it was so loud, like a screaming woman. I could see trees being toppled down,” said Liwayway Sabuco, a saleswoman.
The death toll was expected to rise, with disaster relief officials particularly concerned for isolated communities in Leyte and Samar provinces.
One of those communities was Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40 000 people that was the first to be hit after Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean. Communication was cut off.
Communication was also cut to Tacloban, the capital of Leyte with more than 200 000 people, that appeared to be badly damaged.
Roofs were ripped off and were carried the wind before crashing into buildings.
A television crew also broadcast dramatic footage from Tacloban as Haiyan hit, showing flash floods that had turned city streets into rivers. But the network said it had not heard from the crew since.
An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many deadly, batter the Philippines each year.
The country is particularly vulnerable because it is often the first major landmass for the storms after they build over the Pacific Ocean.
The Philippines suffered the world’s strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2 000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.
Haiyan’s wind strength made it one of the four most powerful typhoons recorded, and the most intense to have made landfall, according to Jeff Masters, the director of mete- orology at US-based Weather Underground.
Haiyan generated wind gusts of 379km/ h yesterday morning, according to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
Authorities expressed confidence that the death toll from Haiyan would not climb dramatically, citing a massive effort starting two days before the typhoon hit to evacuate those in vulnerable areas and make other preparations.
More than 748 000 people had sought shelter in evacuation centres.
Up to 3 000 ferries had been locked down at ports and hundreds of flights were cancelled, according to the national disaster management council’s spokesmen, Reynaldo Balido. “In terms of damage, we cannot avoid that… but the silver lining here is that the casualties are only three as of now,” Balido said in Manila.
“It is possible that this will increase, but we don’t think it will increase that much more, unlike in previous typhoons. The people have learnt their lesson.”
Another reason for optimism was that Haiyan did not bring extreme rains, which is typically the major cause of deaths for typhoons in the Philippines.
However the International Organisation for Migration warned there would be widespread damage and casualties.
“It seems likely that the loss of life and damage to infrastructure will be very significant,” said Conrad Navidad, the IOM’s Operations Coordinator in the Philippines.
Another vulnerable area was the central island of Bohol, the epicentre of a 7.1magnitude earthquake last month that killed 222 people and where 350 000 people were living in temporary shelters.
Haiyan weakened slightly as it travelled across the central Philippines yesterday, but still maintained ferocious maximum winds of 268km/ h, according to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
It was forecast that it would exit the Philippines later and go into the South China Sea, tracking towards Vietnam and Laos. – Sapa-AFP
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PANIC: Residents of Cebu City in the Philippines flee Haiyan, the strongest typhoon in the world this year.