Typhoon Haiyan smashes through central Philippines
Filipinos in central regions coming to terms with one of the strongest storms ever to hit the nation
"It was frightening. The wind was so strong, it was so loud, like a screaming woman. I could see trees being toppled down," said Liwayway Sabuco, a saleswoman from Catbalogan, a major city on Samar, in the path of Typhoon Haiyan.
The Philippines is coming to terms with one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the disaster-prone archipelago, with the authorities struggling to contact the worst-hit areas hit by winds of up to 170mph and hours of torrential rain.
Southern Leyte Governor Roger Mercado said the typhoon triggered landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and ripped roofs off houses around his home.
The dense clouds and heavy rains made the day seem almost as dark as night, he said.
"When you're faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray," said Mercado, adding that mayors in the province had not called in to report any major damage.
"I hope that means they were spared and not the other way around," he said. "My worst fear is there will be massive loss of lives and property."
One of those communities was Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people that was the first to be hit after Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean. More than 18 hours later, there had been no communication with anyone in the town.
Communications were also cut to Tacloban, the capital of Leyte. Corrugated iron sheets were ripped off roofs and floated with the wind before crashing into buildings, according to video footage taken by a resident that was uploaded on to the internet before communications were cut.
An ABS-CBN television crew also broadcast dramatic footage from Tacloban as Haiyan hit, showing flash floods that turned the city's streets into rivers. But the network said it had not heard from the crew since.
The Philippines has in recent years become more serious about preparations to reduce deaths. Public service announcements are more frequent as are government warnings.
Video: Super Typhoon Haiyan makes landfall in the Philippines
Provincial governors and mayors have taken a hands-on approach during crises, supervising evacuations and inspecting shelters and efforts to stockpile food and relief supplies.
Heavy rain from storms usually causes the highest death tolls in the Philippines, said Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground in the US.
Before the storm hit yesterday, more than 700,000 people were evacuated from their homes, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Many were housed in evacuation centres, which could limit the death toll, according to one official.
"People were prepared for this one," said Rene Paciente, a forecaster with the Philippine government's national weather agency. "They were given notice, and they were evacuated."
An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, batter the Philippines each year.
Additional reporting by AP and The New York Times