One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines early Friday, with one weather expert warning of potentially catastrophic damage. Early reports are that at least four people are dead, but with power and phone lines cut to the country's central region, communication is difficult, and officials expect the death toll to rise. As of Friday morning, more than 700,000 have been evacuated from the storm's path .
Shortly before landfall of Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda), the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said its maximum sustained winds were 195 mph, with gusts up to 235 mph.
"195 mile-per-hour winds — there aren't too many buildings constructed that can withstand that kind of wind," said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane meteorologist who is meteorology director at the private firm Weather Underground.
Masters said the storm was poised to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded at landfall. He warned of catastrophic damage.
Philippine authorities reported having trouble reaching colleagues in the landfall area.
The local weather bureau had a lower reading on the storm's power, saying its speed at landfall in Eastern Samar province's Guiuan township had sustained winds of 147 mph, with gusts of 170 mph. The bureau takes measures based on longer periods.
Authorities in Guiuan could not immediately be reached for word of any deaths or damage, regional civil defense chief Rey Gozon told DZBB radio. Forecaster Mario Palafox with the national weather bureau said it had lost contact with its staff in the landfall area.
The storm was not expected to directly hit the flood-prone capital, Manila, farther north.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said more than 125,000 people had been pre-emptively evacuated from towns and villages expected to fall in the typhoon's path.
Typhoon Haiyan's wind strength at landfall was expected to beat out Hurricane Camille, which was 190 mph at landfall in the United States in 1969, Masters said.
The only bright side is that it's a fast-moving storm, so flooding from heavy rains — which usually causes the most deaths from typhoons in the Philippines — may not be as bad, he said.
"The wind damage should be the most extreme in Philippine history," he said.
The storm later will be a threat to Vietnam and Laos and is likely to be among the top five natural disasters for those two countries, Masters said. The storm is forecast to barrel through the Philippines' central region Friday and Saturday before blowing toward the South China Sea over the weekend, heading toward Vietnam.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday warned people to leave high-risk areas, including 100 coastal communities where forecasters said the storm surge could reach up to 23 feet. He urged seafarers to stay in port.
He ordered officials to aim for zero casualties, a goal often not met in an archipelago lashed by about 20 tropical storms each year, most of them deadly and destructive. Haiyan is the 24th such storm to hit the Philippines this year.
Aquino also assured the public of massive preparations from the country's military — three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 army helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.
"No typhoon can bring Filipinos to their knees if we'll be united," he said in a televised address.
The Associated Press