NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Filipino-Americans living in the Tri-State Area have been closely watching as one of the strongest storms on record slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, setting off landslides and knocking out power and communication lines.
Huge, fast-paced Typhoon Haiyan raced across a string of islands from east to west and lashed beach communities.
PHOTOS: Typhoon Haiyan Hits Philippines
By Friday evening more than 100 people were dead, 1010 WINS reported. Nearly 720,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes.
Images from the eye of the storm show mountains of debris floating through waterlogged streets, rain falling in torrential sheets and powerful winds bringing down trees and power lines.
Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 147 mph with gusts of 170 mph when it made landfall. That makes it the strongest typhoon this year, said Aldczar Aurelio of the government’s weather bureau.
Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado said the super typhoon triggered landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and ripped roofs off houses around his residence.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the disaster response agency, said a typhoon of similar strength that hit the Philippines in 1990 killed 508 people and left 246 missing, but this time authorities had taken preemptive 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.
In Tacloban city, communications were down, cell phones unreachable and radio stations have lost transmission. A storm surge estimated at 15 feet damaged the seaside airport.
Because of cut-off communications in the Philippines, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage.
In the Little Manila neighborhood of Woodside, Queens, residents are keeping a close eye on the storm and are anxiously awaiting updates through social media from friends and relatives.
“We cannot reach [family] right now, I’m hoping that everybody is fine,” resident Gina Rekumba said. “What can we do? Just pray. Pray that everyone is going to be fine.”
“It’s very hard because you can’t do much,” resident Michelle Cruz told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown. “All you can do is just pray for these families.”
“We have TFC Filipino channel, so we watch it every day,” said resident Elvie Gold.
Another woman who has relatives in the Philippines said she hasn’t been able to get in touch with her grandmother or aunt.
“It’s like Sandy here, the one that’s over there, so it’s really bad.” she told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg. “I’m concerned they’re not safe there. Hopefully, they are safe but right now, there is a whole bunch of people dying.”
Some residents were worried most by the fear of the unknown.
“I’m so worried about them, it’s hard being away,” one Woodside resident told CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson, “I am here to sacrifice for them.”
The St. Sebastian School in Woodside and other community organizations are already starting to organize drives to send aid to the Philippines.
“We will come together with the pastor, Monsignor Hartiman, to see what kind of outreach the parish is going to do,” Principal JoAnn Dolan told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs.
In Jersey City, residents of the Little Manila neighborhood there shared the same concerns as those in Queens, CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported.
“Those homes that they were trying to construct from the earthquake got destroyed again. It’s really horrifying,” Billy Francisco said.
Christine Villamayor was worried about her brother.
“I facebooked my brother, but I haven’t gotten a reply. I don’t know if it’s just the signal,” she said, “I’ve been checking all day through my phone, at work, I haven’t heard anything.”
Stamford-based AmeriCares is also heading to the Philippines for Haiyan relief efforts.
Officials with the relief organization said the destruction on the ground will be unimaginable and require an emergency response like no other.
“The government has prepared for this. They said they took wartime preparations, so they have stockpiled food and other relief items,” Garrett Ingoglia, Director of Emergency Response with AmeriCares, told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau. “There are reports that there were sustained winds of close to 200 mph, which is similar to a tornado. So a lot of structures can’t withstand that.”
Ingoglia said a huge concern is medicinal supplies, which AmeriCares is sending and will be able to fly in to Manila.
Contributions to the relief group can be made at AmeriCares.org.
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 more frequent as are warnings issued by the president and high-ranking officials, 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.
Among the evacuees were thousands of residents of Bohol who had been camped in tents and other makeshift shelters since a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit the island province last month.
World weather experts are calling Hiayan one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record at the time it hit land, but not quite the windiest. There are disputes over just how strong it is because of differences in the way storms are measured.
“In terms of the world I don’t think it’s the strongest,” said Taoyang Peng, a tropical cyclone scientist at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. But he added that “it is one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall” and probably the strongest to hit the Philippines.
The U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center put Haiyan’s sustained winds at 196 mph just minutes before it made landfall Thursday, which would be a world record. However, officials in Tokyo and the Philippines but the wind speed at about 147 mph.
Peng said his group considers Tokyo the authority in this case because it’s the closest regional center to the storm.
Not until meteorologists can conduct a deep investigation will scientists know just how strong Haiyan actually was, but it will easily be one of the strongest on record, former U.S. National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield said.
Forecasters said the storm was expected to move out of the country and into the South China Sea on Saturday morning, where it was likely to pick up renewed strength on its way toward Vietnam.
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