Authorities warn of giant storm surges and destructive winds, suspending flights to the north and closing schools.
One of the most powerful typhoons to ever hit the Philippines destroyed houses, tore roofs off schools and ripped giant trees out of the ground on Thursday, but there were no immediate reports of deaths.
Super Typhoon Haima hit the northern province of Cagayan late on Wednesday night with winds similar to those of catastrophic Haiyan in 2013, which was then the strongest storm to strike the disaster-prone Southeast Asian archipelago and claimed more than 7,350 lives.
Haima roared across mountain and farming communities of the northern regions of the main island of Luzon overnight, and by morning a picture was emerging of large-scale destruction.
“Rice and corn plants as far as the eye can see are flattened,” Villamor Visaya, a university teacher in Ilagan, one of the main northern cities with a population of 130,000 people, told the AFP news agency by phone.
“Many houses were destroyed. I saw one school building crushed under a large tree … it was as if our house was being pulled from its foundations.”
Haima hit coastal towns facing the Pacific Ocean with sustained winds of 225km an hour, and wind gusts of up to 315km/hr.
It weakened overnight as it rammed into giant mountain ranges and by Thursday morning had passed over the western edge of Luzon and into the South China Sea, heading towards southern China.
Jefferson Soriano, mayor of Tuguegarao, the capital of Cagayan where Haima made landfall, reported badly damaged schools and gymnasiums where people had sought shelter.
“They are calling for help because the roofs have been torn off. The problem is, our rescuers here are unable to go out and help,” Soriano told DZMM radio before dawn while the storm was still raging.
In in the mountains of Carranglan, a town of about 40,000 people, on the southern edge of the typhoon’s direct path, landslides had left a bus trapped in mud on Thursday morning.
Men walked knee-deep through mud and floodwaters across a destroyed road in Carranglan, while aluminium roof sheeting lay on a nearby hillside.