Typhoon Haiyan off the scale, says storm-chaser

HONG KONG - For professional storm-chaser James Reynolds, whose day job involves capturing typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions at heart-stoppingly close range, intense danger goes with the territory.

But the soft-spoken cameraman, who has spent the past eight years filming Asia's deadliest natural disasters including the aftermath of Japan's 2011 quake-tsunami catastrophe, says Super Typhoon Haiyan was the most terrifying event he has witnessed.

"I've chased nothing like this before. This was just totally off the scale both in terms of the violence of the storm and then the human tragedy, " Mr Reynolds said.

"Scientists are saying it's a candidate for one of the strongest storms to ever hit land. From a personal point of view, this was the most calamitous event I've witnessed," said the 30-year-old, who has faced more than 35 typhoons at first hand.

Haiyan left unimaginable destruction in its wake after it smashed into the Philippines last Friday, leaving more than 10,000 feared dead and sparking a worldwide relief effort.

Hong Kong-based Mr Reynolds and his crew of two flew to Manila days before the typhoon was scheduled to strike, setting up camp in Tacloban, the coastal city which bore the brunt of the storm when it made landfall.

Years of storm-chasing has taught him to choose hotels with strong concrete structures that will remain upright, and to stay elevated to avoid being caught in the storm surge flooding the city.

Footage shot from his hotel balcony shows the unfolding destruction as winds reaching 315 kph and sheets of rain sweep in from the Pacific, destroying his video camera and forcing him to improvise with a small Go-Pro camera and then an iPhone.

"It was just a deafening roar, the wind screaming. You could feel the building shaking." 

The team had to leave the Philippines earlier than planned after a member severely injured himself on a piece of sheet metal floating in the debris-stricken floodwater, leaving a gash in his leg that cut through to the shinbone.

While visibly shaken, Mr Reynolds has no plans to give up on getting as close as possible to the disasters. "I want to put myself firmly within the storm and document it so people can see not only what it's like to go through one of these storms, but the far-reaching effects they have on the communities they hit - in this case, extreme, extreme, devastation."