One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines early Friday, with one weather expert warning of catastrophic damage. The US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center shortly before Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall said its maximum sustained winds were 314 kilometers per hour (195 mph), with gusts up to 379 kilometers per hour (235 mph).
“195-mile-per-hour winds, there aren’t too many buildings constructed that can withstand that kind of wind,” said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane meteorologist who is meteorology director at the private firm Weather Underground.
Masters said the storm had been poised to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded at landfall. He warned of “catastrophic damage.”
Local authorities reported having troubles reaching colleagues in the landfall area.
The local weather bureau had a lower reading on the storm’s power, saying its speed at landfall in Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township had sustained winds at 235 kilometers (147 miles) per hour, with gusts of 275 kph (170 mph). The bureau takes measures based on longer periods of time.
Authorities in Guiuan could not be reached for word of any deaths or damage, regional civil defense chief Rey Gozon told DZBB radio. Forecaster Mario Palafox with the national weather bureau said it had lost contact with its staff in the landfall area.
The storm was not expected to directly hit the flood-prone capital, Manila, further north.
More than 125,000 people had been evacuated from towns and villages in the typhoon’s path, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.
Haiyan’s wind strength at landfall had been expected to beat out Hurricane Camille, which was 305 kilometers per hour (190 mph) at landfall in the United States in 1969, Masters said.
The only tiny bright side is that it’s a fast-moving storm, so flooding from heavy rain – which usually causes the most deaths from typhoons in the Philippines – may not be as bad, Masters said.
“The wind damage should be the most extreme in Phillipines history,” he said.
After hitting Guiuan on the southern tip of Samar island, about 650 kilometers (405 miles) southeast of Manila, the typhoon pummeled nearby Leyte island.
“I think this is the strongest so far since the 1960s,” Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado said on ABS-CBN television. “This is really a wallop. All roads are impassable due to fallen trees.”
A reporter for the network in the Tacloban city was drenched in the pounding rain and said he was wearing a helmet as protection against flying debris. Visibility was so poor that only his silhouette could be seen through the thick curtain of water.
Television images showed a street under knee-deep floodwater carrying debris that had been blown down by the fierce winds. Tin sheets ripped off from buildings roofs were flying above the street.
Weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said the typhoon was not losing much of its strength because there is no large land mass to slow it down since the region is comprised of islands with no tall mountains.
Officials in Cebu province have shut down electric service to the northern part of the province to avoid electrocutions in case power pylons are toppled, said assistant regional civil defense chief Flor Gaviola.
President Benigno Aquino III assured the public of war-like preparations, with three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.
The typhoon – the 24th serious storm to hit the Philippines this year – is forecast to barrel through the Philippines’ central region Friday and Saturday before blowing toward the South China Sea over the weekend, heading toward Vietnam.