One of the strongest storms on record has slammed into the central Philippines, killing at least 100 people, forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes and knocking out power and communications in several provinces.
Typhoon Haiyan left the Philippines early on Saturday on a path toward Southeast Asia, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tweeted. Forecasters said the storm was expected to pick up renewed strength over the South China Sea on its way towards Vietnam.
As the storm left on Saturday morning, thousands of Philippine soldiers raced to reach isolated communities that were devastated by the typhoon, as reports emerged of corpses lining roads and people being swept out to sea.
More than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of one Philippine city that was hit by Haiyan, an aviation authority chief said on Saturday.
Military sources in Leyte province, once of the worst hit, told Al Jazeera that an initial survey showed there were “innumerable casualties” there.
“We have reports of collapsed buildings, houses flattened to the ground, storm surges and landslides,” Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told the AFP news agency.
Nichola Jones, a representative of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Al Jazeera that her organisation had received reports of “widespread devastation” and flooding in Leyte.
Initial reports from the worst-affected areas indicated that communications and transportation networks had been crippled, and many homes washed away.
Haiyan smashed into the eastern provinces of Leyte and Samar with maximum sustained winds of around 315 kilometres per hour.
Death toll to rise
The death toll was expected to rise, with authorities unable to immediately contact the worst-affected areas.
“The winds were so strong that they flattened all the banana plants around the house,” university student Jessa Aljibe, 19, told AFP by telephone from the Samar city of Borongan shortly after Haiyan made landfall.
Power and communications in the three large island provinces of Samar, Leyte and Bohol were almost completely down but the government and telephone service providers promised to restore them within 24 hours, the Reuters news agency reported.
Authorities warned that more than 12 million people were at risk, including residents of Cebu City, which has a population
of about 2.5 million, and areas still reeling from a deadly 2011 storm and a 7.2-magnitude quake last month.
Thousands of people were evacuated from villages in the country’s central regions, including a province devastated by an earthquake last month.
David Carden, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, spoke to Al Jazeera about the severity of the storm.
“We have heard there had been high storm surges, in some areas as high as the second floor of houses,” he said.
“In the areas directly affected there is no power. People have no water and [there has been] significant damage to shelters. Information is still coming in and we are, of course, very concerned.”
President Benigno Aquino III gave warning to people to leave high-risk areas, including 100 coastal communities where forecasters said the storm surge could reach up to seven metres. He urged seafarers to stay in port.
Aquino also assured the public of war-like preparations: three C-130 air force planes, 32 helicopters and 20 ships were on standby.
“No typhoon can bring Filipinos to their knees if we’re united,” he said in a televised address.
Edgardo Chatto, governor of Bohol island province in the central Philippines, where an earthquake in October killed more than 200 people, said soldiers, police and rescue units were helping displaced residents, including thousands staying in small tents, move to shelters.
Bohol is not forecast to receive a direct hit but is expected to be battered by strong winds and rain, government forecaster Jori Loiz said.