(MANILA, Philippines) -- The central Philippines are bracing for recovery in the aftermath of a deadly typhoon that ripped through the region, leaving an estimated 1,200 people dead in its wake, the Phillipine Red Cross said.
Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc after touching down on land early Friday morning. The storm, with sustained winds of nearly 200 miles an hour, flattened entire towns in the country's southern and central regions.
The typhoon made landfall at 4:40 a.m. local time near Guiuan, on the Philippine island of Samar, about 405 miles southeast of the country's capital, Manila.
Television images from Tacloban city on Leyte Island showed a street under knee-deep floodwater carrying debris that had been blown down by the fierce winds. Tin roofing sheets ripped from buildings were flying above the street.
"Absolutely catastrophic damage must have occurred where this storm made landfall," Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the private firm Weather Underground, told ABC News Radio.
Bodies of the dead are scattered through the country's streets as residents await relief. With power and communication out for millions, it could take days, if not weeks, before officials in the Philippines learn the full extent of the damage.
Noam Schriever, an American citizen, was trapped in a hotel in Boracay during the chaos, forced to ride out the storm.
"It was crazy. You had to watch out for flying debris. These tin roofs fly off -- they're like projectiles," Schriever told ABC News. "The wind got to the point where you had to brace yourself."
Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement of condolence for deaths in the Philippines, offering American aid.
"I know that these horrific acts of nature are a burden that you have wrestled with and courageously surmounted before," Kerry said. "Your spirit is strong. The United States stands ready to help, our embassies in the Philippines and Palau are in close contact with your governments, and our most heartfelt prayers are with you."
Haiyan is expected to move over South China Sea and into Vietnam by Sunday into Monday with strong winds up to 110 mph. The storm is forecast to significantly weaken as it reaches Laos and inland China, but tropical rain could produce deadly flash floods.
Haiyan is about 300 miles wide, roughly the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. The storm surge could likely exceed 23 feet, compared with the 14 feet Superstorm Sandy brought with it last year when it hit the East Coast of the U.S.
"It's stronger in an absolute sense than Sandy but the strongest winds are concentrated very close to the center as compared to a storm like Sandy where the strong winds extended very far away from the center," the National Hurricane Center's Richard Pass told ABC News Radio.
Haiyan marks the 24th named storm this year to hit the vulnerable islands. The storm will likely go down in history as the most powerful typhoon in recorded history to make landfall. The world's strongest recorded hurricane, typhoon or cyclone to previously make landfall was Hurricane Camille of 1969, which roared ashore with 190 mph winds in Mississippi. Haiyan's sustained winds easily make it a category 5 hurricane.
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