Hannah Strange Agenices, The Daily Telegraph, November 8, 2013
A typhoon thought to be the most powerful ever to hit land battered the central Philippines on Friday, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and killing four as it toppled power lines and blew apart houses.
There were fears the death toll would rise sharply as communications in the worst hit areas were cut off and forecasters warned of catastrophic damage before the storm left the Philippines on Friday evening.
Haiyan, a category-5 super typhoon, scoured the northern tip of Cebu Province and headed west towards the tourist destination of Boracay island after lashing the islands of Leyte and Samar with 275kph (170mph) wind gusts and 5-6 metre (15-19 ft) waves.
Two people were electrocuted by falling power lines while a third victim was struck by lightning, said Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Another person was crushed by a tree, officials reported.
Experts warned the impoverished country would likely need international help in the wake of the mammoth storm.
Dr Steven Godby, an expert in disaster management at Nottingham Trent University, said that successive emergencies in the archipelago, including recent outbreaks of fighting and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in October, had left government agencies overstretched. "Given the potential magnitude of the typhoon’s impact, additional ‘surge’ support from the international community may be required," he suggested.
Roger Mercado, governor of Southern Leyte said the immense storm had set off landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and tore roofs off houses around his residence.
The skies had turned so dark it was as if the island had been plunged into night, he said..
"When you're faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray," he told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that he had received no word from mayors in the area.
"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."
"We have put rescue teams and equipment at different places, but at the moment we can't really do much because of the heavy rain and strong winds. There is no power," Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told AFP.
Winds thought to be up to 195 mph when it hit land would make Haiyan the "strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall” said Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert and director of meteorology at U.S.-based Weather Underground.
Up to a million people had fled to shelters after Philippine President Benigno Aquino appealed to people in Haiyan’s path to evacuate from danger spots, such as river banks, coastal villages and mountain slopes.
“Our school is now packed with evacuees,” an elementary schoolteacher in southern Leyte who only gave her name as Feliza told a radio station. Leyte and southern Leyte are about 630km (390 miles) southeast of the capital Manila.
“Please do not underestimate this typhoon. It is very powerful. We can feel each gust,” Roger Mercado, governor of southern Leyte province, adjacent to Leyte, told DZBB radio. “We lost power and all roads are impassable because of fallen trees. We just have to pray.”
Residents of Manila were braced for the impact of the typhoon as evening approached.
In Samar, contact was lost with some towns and villages, said local officials. More than 41,000 people have been evacuated in the province, one of the country’s poorest.
“The whole province has no power,” Samar Governor Sharee Tan told Reuters by telephone. Fallen trees, toppled electric posts and other debris blocked roads, she added.
Felipe Ramiro, acting country director of Oxfam, said that the charity was ready to dispatch assessment teams to the hardest hit areas.
“We hope to know more in the coming hours," he said. "The Oxfam teams will be dispatched starting tomorrow, 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.”
Twitter: mai zamora - I have been hearing reports from fellow aid workers in Western Visyas, through SMS, that the area is greatly affected by #YolandaPH / Haiyan
Twenty navy ships, three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and aircraft were on standby. An army spokesman on southern Mindanao island said a man was killed in a shelter area when he was electrocuted by a toppled power line.
Schools, offices and shops in the central Philippines were closed, with hospitals, soldiers and emergency workers were preparing for rescue operations.
The state weather bureau said Haiyan was expected to exit the Philippines on Saturday and move towards the South China Sea, where it could become even stronger and threaten Vietnam or China.
Mr Masters said the previous record for the strongest typhoon to make landfall was Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in the United States with sustained winds of 190 miles an hour in 1969.
An average of 20 typhoons slam into the Philippines every year. The archipelago is particularly vulnerable to intense storms because it is often the first major landmass to be hit after they build over the Pacific Ocean. In 2011, typhoon Washi killed 1,200 people, displaced 300,000 and destroyed more than 10,000 homes. Haiyan is the 24th such storm to batter the Philippines this year.
Typhoon Bopha last year flattened three coastal towns on the southern island of Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage estimated at $1.04 billion.
In September, category-5 typhoon Usagi, with winds gusting of up to 240kph (149mph), battered the northern island of Batanes before causing damage in southern China.