Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the strongest storm ever to hit land, has devastated the central Philippine city of Tacloban, killing at least 100 people and destroying most houses in a surge of flood water and high winds, officials said on Saturday.
The toll of death and damage is expected to rise sharply as rescue workers and soldiers reach areas cut off by the massive storm, now barrelling out of the Philippines towards Vietnam.
The category 5 storm weakened after hitting six spots in the Philippines and has been downgraded to category 4, though forecasters said it could strengthen again over the South China Sea on its course to hit Vietnam on Sunday.
The Philippines has yet to resume communications with officials in Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 that suffered the worst of the typhoon, but a senior official estimated at least 100 dead.
"Bodies are lying on the street," said Captain John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, citing a 5 a.m. message from a station manager who only makes contact every four hours to conserve battery power.
The national disaster agency has yet to confirm the toll.
Before communications were cut on Friday, city officials had reported heavy flooding. Mobile phone networks, power lines and trees were toppled and most roads were cut off.
"Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing, but with partial damage," said Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, adding that severed communication links made it hard to fix casualties.
About a million people took shelter in 37 provinces after President Benigno Aquino appealed to those in the typhoon's path to leave vulnerable areas.
Meteorologists said the impact may not have been as strong as feared because the storm was moving so quickly, reducing the risk of flooding and landslides from torrential rain, the biggest causes of typhoon casualties in the Philippines.
Ferry services and airports in the central Philippines remained closed, hampering aid deliveries to Tacloban, although the military said two C-130 transport planes managed to land at its airport on Saturday.
Andrews said the airport terminal was destroyed by the typhoon, which also blew off the roof of the airport tower in Roxas City in Capiz province to the west.
At least two more people had been killed on the tourist destination of Cebu island, radio reports said.
The typhoon was hovering 440 km west of San Jose, in southwestern Occidental Mindoro province, packing winds of a maximum 175 kph, with gusts of up to 210 kph.
The storm lashed the islands of Leyte and Samar with 275-kph wind gusts and 5-6 meter (15-19 ft) waves on Friday before scouring the northern tip of Cebu province.
It weakened slightly as it moved west-northwest near the tourist island of Boracay, later hitting Mindoro island.
Haiyan was the second Category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year after Typhoon Usagi in September. An average of 20 typhoons strike every year, and Haiyan was the 24th in 2013.
Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns in southern Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage of more than $1 billion.(Reuters)