MANILA - One of the most intense typhoons on record whipped the Philippines Friday, killing three people and terrifying millions as monster winds tore roofs off buildings and giant waves washed away flimsy homes.
Update 7.21pm: Haiyan, a category-5 super typhoon, scoured the northern tip of Cebu province and headed northwest towards Boracay island, both tourist destinations, after lashing the central islands of Leyte and Samar with 275-kph (170 mph) wind gusts and 5-6 metre (15-19 ft) waves.
At least three people were killed and seven injured, national disaster agency spokesman Rey Balido told reporters in Manila. The death toll could rise as more reports arrive.
"The humanitarian impact of Haiyan threatens to be colossal," said Patrick Fuller, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Power and communications in the three large islands of Samar, Leyte and Bohol were almost completely down but authorities promised to restore them within 24 hours.
Officials 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.
"The super typhoon likely made landfall with winds near 195 mph (313 kph). This makes Haiyan the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall," said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at US-based Weather Underground.
About a million people took shelter in 29 provinces, after President Benigno Aquino appealed to people in Haiyan's path to leave vulnerable areas, such as river banks, coastal villages and mountain slopes.
"Our school is now packed with evacuees," an elementary school teacher in Southern Leyte, who gave her name only as Feliza, told a radio station. Leyte and Southern Leyte are about 630 km (390 miles) southeast of Manila.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla reported a 3-metre (10-ft) flood in one village in Leyte. "There is zero communication at the moment," he told ANC television.
NO POWER, LANDSLIDES
"Roads are still impassable. There are some landslides,"said Roger Mercado, governor of Southern Leyte province.
More than 100 coastal homes were flattened, while landslides destroyed houses in the hills, but his province had seen no casualties yet, he told Reuters.
In Samar province, links with some towns and villages had been cut, officials said.
"The whole province has no power," Samar Governor Sharee Tan told Reuters by telephone. Fallen trees, toppled electric poles and other debris blocked roads, she said.
Authorities suspended ferry services and fishing and shut 13 airports. Nearly 450 domestic, and eight international, flights were suspended.
Schools, offices and shops in the central regions were shut, with hospitals, soldiers and emergency workers preparing rescue efforts. Twenty navy ships and military aircraft including three C-130 cargo planes and helicopters were on standby.
"Power is off all across the island and the streets are deserted," said Lionel Dosdosa, an International Organisation for Migration coordinator on Bohol island, the epicentre of an Oct. 15 earthquake that killed 222 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. He said power was off and streets were deserted.
At the Sandcastles Beach Resort in Boracay, guests stayed indoors. "The beach is abandoned. The winds are whistling unceasingly, so we secured our homes and the resort," Jenelyn Castro, one of the resort's staff, said by telephone.
The state weather bureau said Haiyan was expected to move past the Philippines on Saturday and out over the South China Sea, where it could strengthen even further and hit Vietnam.
Meteorologists in Vietnam said it could be the country's strongest storm ever. Evacuations had already begun, the state-run Voice of Vietnam radio said.
Update 3.11pm: Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into coastal communities on the central island of Samar, about 600 kilometres (370 miles) southeast of Manila, before dawn on Friday with maximum sustained winds of about 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour.
"We've had reports of uprooted trees, very strong winds... and houses made of light materials being damaged," Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told AFP on Friday afternoon as Haiyan swept across the archipelago's central and southern islands.
The government said three people had been confirmed killed and another man was missing after he fell off a gangplank in the central port of Cebu.
But the death toll was expected to rise, with authorities unable to immediately contact the worst affected areas and Haiyan only expected to leave the Philippines in the evening.
"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.
All telephone contact to the island was later lost as the typhoon moved inland.
"We have put rescue teams and equipment at different places, but at the moment we can't really do much because of the heavy rain and strong winds.
There is no power," said Pang, the Red Cross official.
An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, batter the Philippines each year.
The developing country is particularly vulnerable because it is often the first major landmass for the storms after they build over the Pacific Ocean.
The Philippines suffered the world's strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.
But Haiyan's wind strength made it one of the four most powerful typhoons ever recorded in the world, and the most intense to have made landfall, according to Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at US-based Weather Underground.
Haiyan generated wind gusts of 379 kilometres an hour on Friday morning, according to the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
Masters said the previous record for the strongest typhoon to make landfall was Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in the United States with sustained winds of 190 miles an hour in 1969.
The US expert said he expected the damage in Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people that was the first to be hit on Friday, to be "catastrophic".
Communication lines with Guiuan remained cut off in the afternoon, and the civil defence office said it was unable to give an assessment of the damage there.
In Tacloban, a nearby city of more than 200,000 people, corrugated iron sheets were ripped off roofs and floated with the wind before crashing into buildings, according to video footage taken by a resident.
Flash floods also turned Tacloban's streets into rivers, while a photo from an ABS-CBN television reporter showed six bamboo houses washed away along a beach more than 200 kilometres to the south.
Preparing for disaster
President Benigno Aquino on Thursday had warned his compatriots to make all possible preparations for Haiyan.
"To our local officials, your constituents are facing a serious peril. Let us do all we can while (Haiyan) has not yet hit land," he said in a nationally televised address.
More than 125,000 people in the most vulnerable areas had been moved to evacuation centres before Haiyan hit, according to the national disaster management council, and millions of others huddled in their homes.
Authorities said schools in the storm's path were closed, ferry services suspended and flights cancelled.
In the capital Manila, which was on the northern edge of the typhoon's path, many schools were closed amid forecasts of heavy rain.
One particularly vulnerable area in Haiyan's path was the central island of Bohol, the epicentre of a 7.1-magnitude earthquake last month that killed 222 people.
At least 5,000 survivors were still living in tents on Bohol, and they were moved to schools that had been turned into evacuation centres.
The Philippine government and some scientists have said climate change may be increasing the ferocity and frequency of storms.
Masters said warm Pacific waters were an important reason for the strength of Haiyan, but said it was premature to blame climate change based on the scanty historical data available.
Update 2.52pm: Three people were killed and seven others hurt on Friday as Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the government said.
Two people were electrocuted by power lines toppled by the cyclone, while a third victim was struck by lightning, said Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Of the seven injured, one was hurt in the lightning incident, while the rest were struck by falling objects, he told a news conference.
Deadliest typhoons in the Philippines
Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the Philippines on Friday, the latest in a never-ending pattern of storms for the developing Southeast Asian nation.
The archipelago of more than 7,100 islands is hit by an average of 20 typhoons or tropical storms each year, which kill hundreds and sometimes thousands of people.
The storms are created above the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean near the equator, and the Philippines' islands are often the first major landmass they hit as they move northwest.
Some government authorities say climate change is increasing the ferocity and frequency of the typhoons. Haiyan is one of the strongest ever recorded in the world, and is the Philippines' 24th tropical storm or typhoon of the year, exceeding the annual average.
However some scientists say it is premature to blame climate change, and the Philippines has endured many devastating typhoons that have each claimed many hundreds of lives.
The following are the 10 deadliest typhoons on record in the Philippines*.
1. Tropical Storm Thelma unleashes flash floods on the central city of Ormoc on Leyte island on November 15, 1991, killing more than 5,100.
2. Typhoon Bopha smashes into the main southern island of Mindanao on December 3, 2012. Rarely hit by major storms, the unprepared region suffers about 1,900 people dead or missing.
3. Typhoon Ike hits the central Philippines on August 31, 1984, killing 1,363 people.
4. Typhoon Washi hits the northern part of Mindanao island on December 16, 2011, killing at least 1,080 people.
5. Floods and landslides unleashed by Typhoon Trix kill 995 people in the Bicol region of the main island of Luzon on October 16, 1952.
6. Typhoon Amy rakes across the central islands from December 9, 1951, killing 991 people as it unleashed floods and landslides and caused a massive storm surge that destroyed large sections of Negros island's west coast.
7. Storm surges struck the eastern city of Legazpi on November 25, 1987 as Typhoon Nina roared into the Bicol region, where it also unleashed deadly mudslides down Mayon volcano. The disaster caused 979 deaths.
8. Typhoon Fengshen tracked an erratic and destructive path across the central islands and nearby areas from June 20, 2008, killing 938 people.
9. Typhoon Angela, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the Philippines with gusts of up to 260 kilometres an hour, caused carnage in Bicol and later Manila from November 2, 1995, killing 936 people.
10. Typhoon Agnes struck the central islands from November 5, 1984, killing 895 people.
* Data is on government records and those compiled by David Padua, a meteorologist for weather forecasting website The Weather Philippines Foundation.