Manila - One of the most intense typhoons ever recorded tore into the Philippines on Friday, triggering flash floods and ripping down buildings as millions of people huddled indoors.
Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into fishing communities on the central island of Samar, about 600km southeast of Manila, before dawn on Friday with maximum sustained winds of 315km/h.
The strength of the wind made it one of the four most powerful typhoons ever recorded in the world, and the most powerful to have made landfall, according to Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at US-based Weather Underground.
Masters said he expected the damage in Guiuan, the fishing town of about 40 000 people that was the first to be hit after Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean, to be "catastrophic".
"Perhaps the greatest wind damage any city on Earth has endured from a tropical cyclone in the past century," Masters wrote on his blog for the weather monitoring website at www.wunderground.com.
Communication with Guiuan was cut off immediately after Haiyan hit, and the civil defence office said it was too early to give an assessment of the damage there.
But in Tacloban, a nearby city of more than 200 000 people, streets were flooded and some buildings were torn down, according to footage broadcast on ABS CBN television.
Haiyan had maximum sustained winds on Friday morning of 315km/h, and gusts of 379km/h, according to the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday warned his countrymen 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," Aquino said in a nationally televised address.
Aquino warned areas within the 600km typhoon front would be exposed to severe flooding as well as devastating winds, while coastal areas may see waves six meters high.
More than 125 000 people in the most vulnerable areas had been moved to evacuation centres before Haiyan hit, according to the civil defence office, and millions of others braced for the typhoon in their homes.
Authorities said schools in the storm's path were closed, ferry services suspended and fishermen ordered to secure their vessels.
In the capital of Manila, which was on the northern edge of the typhoon's path, many schools were closed amid forecasts of heavy rain.
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and other carriers announced the suspension of hundreds of flights, mostly domestic but also some international.
State meteorologist Romeo Cajulis said on Friday that Haiyan was travelling quickly, at 39km/h, and would travel across the country towards the South China Sea throughout Friday.