MANILA, Philippines — One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines early today, and one weather expert warned, “There will be catastrophic damage.”
The U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said shortly before Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall that its maximum sustained winds were 195 mph, with gusts up to 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 that at landfall in Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township, it had sustained winds at 147 mph, with gusts of 170 mph. The bureau takes measures based on longer periods of time.
Authorities in Guiuan could not immediately 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.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said more than 125,000 people had been evacuated from towns and villages in the typhoon’s path.
Typhoon 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 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.
The storm later will be a threat to both Vietnam and Laos and is likely to be among the top five natural disasters for those two countries, Masters said. The storm 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.
President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday warned people to leave high-risk areas, including 100 coastal communities where forecasters said the storm surge could reach up to 7 meters (23 feet). He urged seafarers to stay in port.
Aquino ordered officials to aim for zero casualties, a goal often not met in an archipelago lashed by about 20 tropical storms each year, most of them deadly and destructive. Haiyan is the 24th such storm to hit the Philippines this year.
The president also assured the public of war-like preparations: three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.
“No typhoon can bring Filipinos to their knees if we’ll be united,” he said in a televised address.