A Category 2 typhoon has flooded towns, kicking up high waves and knocking out power as it makes its way across the central Philippines on a northwest track.
Three people have been reported killed so far, although the government says it is still trying to establish exact casualty figures.
The Philippine Red Cross says it continues to monitor Typhoon Hagupit’s effects as state forecasters expect it to make landfall on several more islands.
Local weather agency Pagasa said Sunday that the storm crashed into remote fishing communities of Samar Island, tearing roofs off buildings and sending them flying into the Pacific Ocean.
"As soon as roads are cleared our air operations can commence because in some areas right now like in Samar, we are awaiting the clearance for the aircraft to fly, then the initial relief operations will start," Pama said.
Power is out throughout the region and roads are covered with trees and tin roofs. The massive storm has winds as high as 210 kilometers per hour.
Forecasters said Hagupit may take three days to cross the central Philippines. More than one million people have been evacuated from coastal villages and areas prone to landslides and placed in temporary shelters. However, some of the evacuees have already been cleared to return to their homes.
The Philippine Red Cross said it continues to monitor Typhoon Hagupit, downgraded from a Category 5 storm to a Category 2, as it tracks on a northwesterly course.
The centrally located island of Cebu has escaped the brunt of the storm's destructive force, VOA's Brian Padden reported.
While this typhoon is not as strong as last year's Typhoon Haiyan that left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, it is causing significant damage to impoverished areas of the eastern Philippines
But Typhoon Hagupit veered away from the island of Cebu, located in the center of the country. The region experienced heavy rain and intense winds Sunday, but few injuries and little damage had been reported.
It was business as usual in the market area Sunday despite the rain and, at times, heavy winds.
Surveying storm damage
Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said rapid assessment teams are doing initial surveys of areas that the storm has left. She said they have not been able to get to a few of the towns that Hagupit first struck.
“So far we have not received major reports like casualties or major damages. And these are all manageable at this point in time, although our greatest concern is there are still areas we cannot reach and contact,” Pang said.
But, overall, Pang said the initial reports, which do not show casualties, mean the mass evacuation efforts may have been effective.
The Red Cross said 1.2 million residents went to evacuation centers.
Pang said with the memory of killer storm surges from last year’s Super Typhoon Haiyan fresh in people’s minds, it took little convincing to get residents to safe ground.
The Civil Defense Office said the main priority now is clearing operations.
Military Chief Gregorio Catapang said once entry points to an airstrip and airport in Eastern Samar province are cleared they can be used as backup landing points for military craft delivering relief goods.
Catapang said 11 countries, including the United States, China and Japan, are part of a multinational humanitarian and disaster relief team that is ready to help with distribution.
Last year, Haiyan’s 230 kph winds left impenetrable debris fields that left residents without access to food and water for days.
City officials in Tacloban, where the brunt of Haiyan’s 7,300 deaths occurred, said some evacuees were actually heading back home late Sunday.
Tacloban Social Welfare Director Gloria Fabrigas said the city gave strict orders ahead of the storm to try to keep the city accessible after the storm hit.
“They evacuated early and we enforced liquor bans. We enforced no cars in the streets, in the main streets especially. So it’s very clean, it’s easy. And there are no damages except some wires that have fallen. As of now we don’t have electricity,” Fabrigas said.
Power was out in dozens of towns and cities in at least eight provinces. There was also widespread flooding in the affected areas.
Fabrigas said there were reports that some of Tacloban's temporary shelters, which were being used to house about 14,000 residents who had lost their homes during Haiyan, were damaged.
The Red Cross’s Pang said teams were also checking on the status of the housing units the agency had built for survivors of last year’s typhoon.
The head of the Catholic Relief Services office in Tacloban said initial reports showed minimal damage to a handful of the homes in their “build back better” housing projects.
Simone Orendain contributed to this report from Manila. Brian Padden contributed from Cebu. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.