GUANGZHOU, China - Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, crashed across the central islands of the Philippines Friday, killing at least three people, and forcing a million people to flee from their homes. Many areas lost power, and hundreds of flights were cancelled.
Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the typhoon-prone Philippines, packed winds of over 200 miles per hour, and affected a huge sweep of the country. Three people were killed and seven injured, national disaster agency spokesman Rey Balido told a news briefing in the capital Manila, reported Reuters.
The death toll could rise as some of the worst affected areas remain cut off without power and communication. Earlier official reports said one person was killed by a fallen tree and another was struck by lightning.
Super Typhoon Haiyan, a category-5 storm, made landfall Friday morning at Guiuan, a small city in Samar province in the eastern Philippines. The U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said maximum sustained winds were 195 mph, with gusts to 235 mph.
Over 12 million people live in the storm's path, including Cebu City, with a population of about 2.5 million, and Bohol island, where a major earthquake last month killed over 200 people and left thousands homeless and highly vulnerable in tents. The typhoon was expected to skirt central Manila and fully exit the Philippines by Saturday morning local time, en route for the South China Sea, Vietnam and China.
President Benigno Aquino said Thursday his administration had made war-like preparations, with air force planes, helicopters and navy ships on standby. Over one million people fled their homes ahead of the storm as the government announced evacuation plans in many areas. With at least 20 typhoons hitting the Philippines every year, its people are familiar with nature's power, but none have experienced what some meteorologists have called the most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall.
The affected areas include islands loved by travelers around the world. Last month, Conde Nast Traveler magazine named Cebu and Bohol in its list of the Top 5 Islands in Asia. In Cebu city Friday evening, the wind and rain had eased, electricity had been restored and residents were emerging to assess the damage, said Sarah Adlawan, a saleswoman at the Cebu Northwinds Hotel.
"I checked into our hotel with my family Thursday night as we live by the coast, and were worried because we heard on the radio this would be the strongest ever typhoon," she said. "The winds did not feel too strong today, but I have no idea if my home is okay," said Adlawan, who planned to return there Friday night.
"The government was well-prepared for this typhoon and informed the people," so many could evacuate low-lying areas, she said. "Thank God, all my family are okay."
In this strongly Catholic country, clergy nationwide have been praying to reduce the storm's expected devastation. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, also the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, asked bishops and priests to lead the people in praying the Oratio Imperata, or Obligatory Prayer, used when calamity threatens.
It paid off, said Hildren Mallete, receptionist at the Casablanca Hotel in Legazpi City, Albay province. While Legazpi suffered a blackout early Friday morning, the wind and rain were not as strong as residents had feared, said Mallete. "The priests have been saying prayers from yesterday to today, and that helped our city. The power of prayer, it helped a lot."