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Monster Typhoon Hits Philippines

  • A house is engulfed by the storm surge brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit Legazpi city, Albay province Friday Nov.8, 2013 about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

    A house is engulfed by the storm surge brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit Legazpi city, Albay province Friday Nov.8, 2013 about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

  • This image provided by NASA shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by the Aqua satellite Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 12:15 a.m. EST as it passed over the Philippines. One of the strongest storms to ever make landfall slammed into the central Philippines Friday, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, knocked out power and communications but appeared to spare the country from a major catastrophe officials said. (AP Photo/NASA)

    This image provided by NASA shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by the Aqua satellite Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 12:15 a.m. EST as it passed over the Philippines. One of the strongest storms to ever make landfall slammed into the central Philippines Friday, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, knocked out power and communications but appeared to spare the country from a major catastrophe officials said. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • Debris litter the road by the coastal village in Legazpi city following a storm surge brought about by powerful Typhoon Haiyan in Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. The strongest typhoon this year slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides and knocking out power and communication lines in several provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

    Debris litter the road by the coastal village in Legazpi city following a storm surge brought about by powerful Typhoon Haiyan in Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. The strongest typhoon this year slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides and knocking out power and communication lines in several provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

  • Huge waves brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan hit the shoreline in Legazpi city, Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan,  one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

    Huge waves brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan hit the shoreline in Legazpi city, Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

  • Workers examine the damage after a giant Christmas tree was toppled by strong winds at the onslaught of the powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit the island province of Cebu, Philippines, Friday Nov. 8, 2013. One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Chester Baldicantos)

    Workers examine the damage after a giant Christmas tree was toppled by strong winds at the onslaught of the powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit the island province of Cebu, Philippines, Friday Nov. 8, 2013. One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Chester Baldicantos)

  • A man reinforces his house with banana stalks as powerful typhoon Haiyan hits Legazpi city, Albay province, about 520 kilometers (325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

    A man reinforces his house with banana stalks as powerful typhoon Haiyan hits Legazpi city, Albay province, about 520 kilometers (325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

  • A house is engulfed by the storm surge brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit Legazpi city, Albay province Friday Nov.8, 2013 about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)
  • This image provided by NASA shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by the Aqua satellite Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 12:15 a.m. EST as it passed over the Philippines. One of the strongest storms to ever make landfall slammed into the central Philippines Friday, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, knocked out power and communications but appeared to spare the country from a major catastrophe officials said. (AP Photo/NASA)
  • Debris litter the road by the coastal village in Legazpi city following a storm surge brought about by powerful Typhoon Haiyan in Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. The strongest typhoon this year slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides and knocking out power and communication lines in several provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)
  • Huge waves brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan hit the shoreline in Legazpi city, Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan,  one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)
  • Workers examine the damage after a giant Christmas tree was toppled by strong winds at the onslaught of the powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit the island province of Cebu, Philippines, Friday Nov. 8, 2013. One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Chester Baldicantos)
  • A man reinforces his house with banana stalks as powerful typhoon Haiyan hits Legazpi city, Albay province, about 520 kilometers (325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, slammed into the Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides, knocking out power in one entire province and cutting communications in the country's central region of island provinces. (AP Photo/Nelson Salting)

Manila, Philippines — One of the strongest storms on record slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, killing at least four people, forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes and knocking out power and communications in several provinces. But the nation appeared to avoid a major disaster because the rapidly moving typhoon blew away before wreaking more damage, officials said.

Typhoon Haiyan raced across a string of islands from east to west — Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Panay — and lashed beach communities. Nearly 750,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 147 mph with gusts of 170 mph when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., knocking on the door of the top category, a 5.

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same thing. They are just called different names in different parts of the world.

Because of cut-off communications in the Philippines, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage. At least two people were electrocuted in storm-related accidents, one person was killed by a fallen tree and another was struck by lightning, official reports said.

Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado said the typhoon triggered landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and ripped roofs off houses around his residence. 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,” Mercado told The Associated Press by telephone, 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.”

Eduardo del Rosario, head of the disaster response agency, said a powerful typhoon that also hit the central Philippines in 1990 killed 508 people and left 246 missing, but this time authorities had ordered pre-emptive evacuation and other measures to minimize casualties.

He said the speed at which the typhoon sliced through the central islands — 25 mph — helped prevent its 375-mile band of rain clouds from dumping enough of their load to overflow waterways. Flooding from heavy rains is often the main cause of deaths from typhoons.

“It has helped that the typhoon blew very fast in terms of preventing lots of casualties,” regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said. He said the massive evacuation of villagers before the storm also saved many lives.

The Philippines, which is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms a year, has in recent years become more serious about preparations to reduce deaths. Public service announcements are frequent, as are warnings by the president and high-ranking officials that are regularly carried on radio and TV and social networking sites. Provincial governors and mayors have taken a hands-on approach during crises, supervising evacuations, inspecting shelters and efforts to stockpile food and relief supplies.