At least four dead as millions flee Philippines super-typhoon

Major disaster avoided due to speed of rapidly moving strom

The strongest typhoon in the world this year and possibly the most powerful ever to hit land battered the Philippines today, forcing more than a million people to flee, cutting power lines and blowing apart houses.


The strongest typhoon this year has slammed into the central Philippines, setting off landslides and knocking out power and communication lines in several provinces. At least four people have died.

The nation appeared to avoid a top-level disaster because the rapidly moving typhoon blew away before wreaking more damage, officials said.

Typhoon Haiyan raced across a string of islands from east to west - Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Panay - and lashed beach communities with over 200km/h (125 mph) per hour winds. Nearly 720,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes.

Due to cut-off communications, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage. At least two people were electrocuted in storm-related incidents, one person was killed by a fallen tree and another was struck by lightning, official reports said.

Southern Leyte governor Roger Mercado said the super-typhoon triggered landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and ripped roofs off houses around his residence.

The dense clouds and heavy rains made the day seem almost as dark as night, he said.

“When you’re faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray,” Mr Mercado said, adding that mayors in the province had not called in to report any major damage.

“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.”

Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 235km/h (147 mph) with gusts of 275 km/h (170 mph) when it made landfall. That makes it the strongest typhoon this year, said Aldczar Aurelio of the government’s weather bureau.

Eduardo del Rosario, head of the disaster response agency, said a typhoon of similar strength that hit the Philippines in 1990 killed 508 people and left 246 missing, but this time authorities had taken pre-emptive evacuation and other measures to minimise casualties.

Serious preparations

The Philippines, which is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms a year, has in recent years become more serious about preparations to reduce deaths. Public service announcements are more frequent, as are warnings issued by the president and high-ranking officials, regularly carried on radio and TV and social networking sites.

Provincial governors and mayors have taken a hands-on approach during crises, supervising evacuations, inspecting shelters and efforts to stockpile food and relief supplies.

By early evening today it was centred to the west of Aklan province on Panay Island, 320km south of Manila, after blasting the island resort of Boracay.

Forecasters said it was expected to move out over water south of Mindoro island and into the South China Sea tomorrow, heading toward Vietnam.

Among the evacuees were thousands of residents of Bohol who had been camped in tents and other makeshift shelters after a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit the island province last month.

The US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre said shortly before the typhoon made landfall that its maximum sustained winds were 314 km/h, with gusts up to 379km/h. Those measurements are different than local weather data because the centre measures the average wind speed for one minute while local forecasters measure the average for 10 minutes.

President Benigno Aquino III has assured the public of war-like preparations, with three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.