750,000 flee their homes as worst storm in history rages across Philippines
One of the most powerful storms ever recorded was still battering the central Philippines last night, bringing with it sustained winds of up to 320km/h and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
Based on satellite images, meteorologists have said the super-typhoon could be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall. Four people have been killed but due to cut-off communications, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage.
The category-five storm is sweeping through the islands, powered by fearsome winds and forcing thousands to flee to safer ground.
Forecasters have warned of potentially catastrophic damage in a region already struggling to recover from an earthquake. Nearly 750,000 people were forced to flee their homes.
The typhoon has an estimated 25 million people in its path. One of the casualties was a man who was electrocuted in southern Surigao del Sur province while another was hit by a tree felled by strong winds in central Cebu province.
The estimated wind speeds for landfall of 235km/h are 35km/h stronger than those of Hurricane Katrina – one of the deadliest storms in history, which killed an estimated 1,833 people.
According to the Associated Press news agency, telephone lines appeared down because it was difficult to contact the landfall site 550km south-east of Manila, where Typhoon Haiyan roared into the southern tip of Samar island.
One weather forecaster, Gener Quitlong, said the typhoon was not losing much of its strength because there was no large land mass to slow it down, since the region was comprised of islands with no tall mountains.
Oxfam said yesterday it was ready to respond to the impact of the super-typhoon. Felipe Ramiro, its acting country director in the Philippines, said: "Initial reports from the ground indicate that the provinces of Samar and Leyte in the Visayas region are the hardest hit.
"As of early afternoon (yesterday), about 42,000 families or 210,000 individuals have been affected and are staying in 562 evacuation centres in 22 provinces, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
"The Oxfam teams will be dispatched, especially to areas which are at risk from hazards like flooding and storm surges and may not be able to bounce back from disaster quickly because of poverty."
Haiyan is already the strongest typhoon on Earth this year and may be among the strongest ever recorded. Its central pressure is reported to be somewhere below 900 millibars, which puts it comfortably among the 20 most powerful storms ever. Rain will also be a potentially devastating consequence of the storm, with between eight and 12 inches expected across a wide area.
Roger Mercado, governor of southern Leyte, said 31,000 people were evacuated in his province before the super-typhoon struck, knocking out power, setting off small landslides and ripping roofs off houses around his residence.
"When you are faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray," Mr Mercado said.
Aid agencies agree the full extent of Typhoon Haiyan has not been realised.
Minnie Portales, of World Vision in the Philippines, said: "This storm was much stronger than Typhoon Bopha last year, and that storm killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed at least 216,000 homes.
"As we wait for early reports from some of the hardest-hit provinces, we fear for the worst. This could be very bad."
Anna Lindenfors, of Save the Children, added: "We expect the level of destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan to be extensive and devastating, and sadly we fear that many lives will be lost.
"As the storm batters across the country, homes, schools and offices are being destroyed by the record-breaking winds. The storm surge is causing widespread flooding.
"Children are going to be particularly affected, swept away in floods, hit by falling debris and separated from their families in the chaos. We expect thousands to be left homeless.
"Our priority at this time is to help the children that are being affected. Our teams on the ground were well prepared and we deployed a rapid response team to Tacloban, a heavily populated area where the storm was expected to hit hardest."