Image credit: CIMSS

The central Philippines is being battered with sustained winds of more than 145mph as Typhoon Haiyan hit the island nation.

The storm has forced millions in storm-prone areas to seek shelter across 20 provinces, officials say.

Meteorologists say it could be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall if initial estimates based on satellite images are borne out, the BBC reported.

The authorities have warned that more than 12 million people are at risk from the category-five storm, including in Cebu, the country’s second-largest city with a population of 2.5 million.

Ferry services and local flights have been suspended and soldiers are on standby for rescue and relief operations.

The storm was not expected to directly hit the capital Manila, further north, but comes less than a month after a powerful earthquake struck the island of Bohol.

About 5,000 people are still living in tents in Bohol after losing their homes in the quake, which killed more than 200 people.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “Typhoon Haiyan has developed into an intensely powerful weather system and is due to cross central parts of the Philippines from November 8, bringing extremely hazardous sea and weather conditions to a wide area.

“Local evacuation orders may be in place. You should closely monitor local weather reports and follow the advice of local authorities.”