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Typhoon Haiyan: Most powerful storm to ever hit land causes millions to flee in Philippines

Based on satellite images meteorologists have said the super-typhoon could be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall on earth

By Rob Williams

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, is battering the central Philippines bringing with it sustained winds of nearly 200mph and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Based on satellite images meteorologists have said the super-typhoon could be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall.

The category-5 super typhoon is currently sweeping through the Philippines powered by fearsome winds and forcing thousands to flee to safer ground.

Forecasters have warned of potentially catastrophic damage in a region already struggling to recover from an earthquake.

At least four people have already died in the storm which has an estimated 25 million people in its path.

The initial estimated wind speeds for landfall of 149mph are 24mph stronger than those of Hurricane Katrina - one of the deadliest storms in history which killed an estimated 1,833 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre in Hawaii said Haiyan's maximum sustained winds were 199mph, with gusts up to 235mph.

According to Associated Press telephone lines appeared down as it was difficult to get through to the landfall site 405 miles south east of Manila where Typhoon Haiyan roared into the southern tip of Samar island before barrelling on to Leyte Island.

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.

Oxfam said today they were ready to respond to the impact of the super-typhoon.

Felipe Ramiro, acting country director of Oxfam in the Philippines said: “Initial reports from the ground indicate that the provinces of Samar and Leyte in the Visayas region are the hardest hit. Electricity in these areas has been cut off and communication has been difficult. Flights to these provinces and other areas have also been cancelled.”

“As of early afternoon today, around 42,000 families or 210,000 individuals have been affected and are staying in 562 evacuation centres in 22 provinces, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.”

“Oxfam’s assessment teams will be dispatched to assess the situation of these areas. Oxfam is ready to respond to the emergency should the government need it.”

Ramiro adds: “We hope to know more in the coming hours. The Oxfam teams will be dispatched starting tomorrow, especially to areas which are at risk from hazards like flooding and storm surges and may not be able to bounce back from disaster quickly because of poverty.”

Dr Steven Godby, an expert in disaster management at Nottingham Trent University said agencies in the country may struggle to cope with this latest disaster: “Successive emergencies in the Philippines, which began with an outbreak of fighting in Zamboanga City and Basilan on 9 September and the 7.2 magnitude Bohol earthquake on 15 October, mean that the response capacities of many agencies in the country are overstretched. Given the potential magnitude of the typhoon’s impact, additional ‘surge’ support from the international community may be required."

Haiyan is already the strongest typhoon on earth this year and may be among the strongest storms ever recorded on earth. It's central pressure is reported to be somewhere below 900mb which puts it comfortably among the 20 most powerful storms ever.

Rain will also be a potentially devastating consequence of the storm with between eight and 12 inches of expected across a wide area.

Southern Leyte governor Roger Mercado told AP that 31,000 people were evacuated in his landslide-prone mountainous province before the super typhoon struck, knocking out power, setting off small landslides that blocked roads in rural areas, uprooting trees and ripping roofs off houses around his residence.

"When you're faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray," Mr Mercado said by telephone, adding that his town mayors 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 many massive loss of lives and property."

The Philippines is well used to devastating storms, although they are rarely as powerful as Haiyan - named Yolanda locally. The typhoon is the 24th serious storm to hit the Philippines this year.

Jeff Masters, a former hurricane meteorologist who is meteorology director at the private firm Weather Underground, said the storm had been poised to be the strongest tropical cyclone recorded at landfall.

He warned of "catastrophic damage".

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