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Typhoon Haiyan Pounds Central Philippines; 3 Dead

One of the strongest typhoons ever recorded is pounding the central Philippines where it has caused landslides, destroyed buildings and killed at least three people.

Many parts of the archipelago nation were cut off from electricity and communications Friday, as Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on the islands of Leyte and Samar.

The storm, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, had wind gusts of over 350 kilometers per hour as it lashed the islands. Some forecasters say this makes it the strongest recorded typhoon ever to make landfall.

Officials say three people are confirmed killed and seven injured, though the death toll seemed certain to rise. Over 700,000 people in 29 provinces have been evacuated.

Sonny Coloma, a presidential spokesman, says the government is working hard to distribute relief goods and prevent mass casualties in the worst-hit areas.

"The goods were pre-positioned there and have been brought to the areas of great concern. Right now they're taking care of continuing needs. Let's remember with those past calamities, ones similar to this, what the president wants is a timely supply and enough food."

But many parts of the hardest-hit areas Friday were unreachable, and the extent of the damage was not known.

Aya Omar, a call center supervisor in Manila, tells VOA she is "very worried" about her family, which lives near a beach on Leyte Island's Tacloban city. Omar says she has not talked to her family since early Friday when her mother sent frantic text messages about the incoming storm.

"All communication lines are down and nobody can get out there. Pretty much the whole city, Tacloban city, is off the grid right now, so I don't know what I can do now except pray."

Television images from Tacloban showed streets turned into rivers, as iron sheets from damaged buildings swirled in the air above. Many poorly constructed houses were completely washed away.

Minnie Portales, Public Engagement Director with World Vision Philippines, told VOA her aid group has not been able to contact its spokesperson in Tacloban. She said some areas there saw nearly 5-meter-high waves and were under 3 meters of water.

"All the electricity has been cut off, all the houses were damaged, particularly in Tacloban because of the strong winds that were 350 kilometers per hour. And there's a difficulty in terms of communication because there are two telecommunications centers that were already affected."

Portales said the casualty figures likely will rise as communication lines are restored. She said there will be an immediate need for food, water and shelter, since many homes and agricultural land were damaged.

The World Vision official was speaking from Manila, which was not expected to be impacted significantly from the storm.

But one area of particular concern is the central Philippine island of Bohol, where more than 200 people were killed in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month, forcing thousands of people to stay in temporary shelters.

Philippine meteorologists warn Haiyan could be more dangerous than last year's Typhoon Bopha, which killed at least 1,100 people on the southern island of Mindanao. Bopha was the world's most powerful storm of 2012.

The Philippines is vulnerable to severe flooding caused by heavy rains and tsunamis. It is hit by about 20 tropical cyclones each year.

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