At least four people have been killed and several others injured as the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year barrelled across the archipelago, uprooting trees, toppling powerlines and flooding villages in its path.
According to the Rappler news website, the four deaths were recorded in the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental on Friday, and included a 64-year-old woman who was crushed when a tree fell on her home in the town of San Carlos.
The extent of the damage from super Typhoon Rai is not yet known as many of the affected provinces remain cut off.
Locally known as Typhoon Odette, the storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometres an hour (120 miles) when it made landfall on the central island of Siargao on Thursday.
Wind speeds had eased to 155 km/h by Friday as the storm moved over the western province of Palawan. It was expected to emerge over the South China Sea on Saturday.
The AFP news agency said more than 300,000 people sought emergency shelter as the typhoon charged across the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. Some 18,000 are yet to return home, it said.
Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan, reporting from the Philippine capital, Manila, said “officials in the Philippines are struggling to assess the extent of the typhoon damage as telecommunications lines in the affected provinces remain cut-off”.
“We have very little information at the moment, but the little that’s trickled out appears quite grim,” she said. “We are seeing people stranded on rooftops, waiting for rescue. Homes submerged and airports non-operational. The government is saying they are looking at re-establishing communication lines in order to fully assess where or how to send aid to those who need it most.”
In the hard-hit city of Surigao, on the southern island of Mindanao, local media reported extensive damage.
“We are seeing people walking in the streets, many of them shell-shocked,” said ABS-CBN correspondent Dennis Datu, reporting from Surigao. “All buildings sustained heavy damage, including the provincial disaster office. It looks like it’s been hit by a bomb.”
The ABS-CBN correspondent said the main roads leading into the coastal city had been cut off by landslides, fallen trees and toppled power poles.
The mayor of Surigao City, Ernesto Matugas, told the network that Rai had ravaged the city of around 170,000 people for several hours on Thursday, causing “severe” damage.
“The wind was very strong,” Matugas said. “Everything sustained damage – roofs blown off, access roads blocked by landslides.”
In the central island province of Bohol, 37-year-old Joel Darunday told AFP that the “devastation is hard to explain”.
The tour operator said he had been hunkered down at home with his family when the storm ripped off the roof.
“It was very strong. The last time I experienced something like this was back in the 1980s,” he said.
Northwest of Bohol, in the central province of Cebu, photos showed roadside buildings in the city of Lapu-Lapu flattened by the storm, while sheets of corrugated iron roofing and branches littered streets.
Rai is hitting the Philippines late in the typhoon season, with most cyclones developing between July and October.
Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful, and strengthening more rapidly, as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.
A super typhoon is the equivalent of a category five hurricane in the United States.
The Earth tends to experience around five storms of that power a year.
The Philippines, ranked as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.
The deadliest cyclone on record in the Philippines was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.