Typhoon throws cars around 'like tumbleweeds'

WHAT: Typhoon Haiyan

WHERE: Six central Philippines islands, including Leyte and Sama

WHEN: Friday

TOLL: Estimated 1,200 dead; thousands evacuated

It was so powerful and devastating that it is now being compared to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Typhoon Haiyan, with sustained winds of about 315kmh generated storm surges that saw 3m-high waves swamp coastal towns.

"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown around like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris," said Mr Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of a United Nations disaster assessment coordination team.

"The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami," he added, referring to the disaster which claimed about 220,000 lives in 2004.

Ms Mai Zamora, who is from the charity World Vision and located in Cebu, told the BBC: "We've been hearing from my colleagues in Tacloban, the destroyed capital of Leyte, that they've seen galvanised iron sheets flying just like kites."

The airport in Tacloban, a city of 200,000 about 580km south-east of Manila, looked like a muddy wasteland of debris yesterday with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars.

The airport tower's glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were busy flying in and out to carry out relief operations.

"I don't have the words to describe the devastation," Interior Secretary Max Roxas told AP.

"It's really horrific. It's a great human tragedy. All systems, all vestiges of modern living - communications, power, water - are down."

He added: "Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people."

One Tacloban resident said he and a few others took refuge inside a parked jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a surging wall of water.

"The water was as high as a coconut tree," recalled Mr Sandy Torotoro, who lives near the airport with his wife and eight-year-old daughter.

The 44-year-old bicycle taxi driver added: "I got out of the jeep and I was swept away by the rampaging water with logs, trees and our house, which was ripped off from its mooring.

"When we were being swept by the water, many people were floating and raising their hands and yelling for help. But what can we do? We also needed to be helped."

Ms Liwayway Sabuco, a saleswoman from Catbalogan, a city on Samar, told AFP: "It was frightening. The wind was so strong and so loud, like a screaming woman. I could see trees being toppled."

Mr Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the US-based private firm Weather Underground, said in a blog post that the damage from the typhoon winds must have been "perhaps the greatest wind damage any city on Earth has endured from a tropical cyclone in the past century".

The Philippines suffered the world's strongest storm of last year, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.

Meanwhile, the storm is moving to Vietnam and was expected to make landfall on Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of people were being taken to shelters in Quang Ngai, Quang Nam and Thua Thien Hue.

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