By Jethro Mullen and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
(CNN) — A brutal typhoon has carved a deadly path across the southern Philippines, leveling buildings, setting off landslides and killing more than 140 people, authorities said Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless by the storm, as the government agencies and relief workers scramble to provide shelters and rescue survivors.
Typhoon Bopha struck first and hardest on the large southern island of Mindanao, which is rarely in the direct path of tropical cyclones, fueling fears that it could be as devastating as a storm that killed more than 1,200 people there almost a year ago.
Bopha, the most powerful typhoon to hit Mindanao in decades, had top winds of 175 kph (110 mph) as it roared ashore over the city of Baganga early Tuesday.
A fuller picture of the havoc it wrought began to emerge Wednesday. The heaviest toll was in Davao, the region where the storm made landfall. A total of 133 bodies have so far been found there, according to Camilo Gudmalin, assistant secretary at the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Bopha’s heavy rain set off sudden, violent floods in several parts of the hilly and remote region, washing away houses and dozens of people. The storm even thwarted some of the authorities’ efforts to relocate people in vulnerable areas to safer places.
“In one case in Davao Oriental, the evacuation centers — public buildings and schools — were also victims of flash flooding,” said Gudmalin. “And as a result, some people who were in an evacuation center died.”
Combined with the 13 people reported dead in other regions by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the toll in Davao brought the total number of people confirmed dead to 146.
But with many others still missing amid the chaos inflicted by the storm, the death toll appeared likely to rise further.
“We have difficulty communicating with our teams because power lines and communication signals are down,” Gudmalin said.
There were also reports of roads cut off by landslides, hampering the efforts of rescue workers.
One thing that was clear was Bopha’s destructive force.
“I felt like there was an earthquake because the winds and rain were so strong,” said Herbert Yepis, a staff member of the humanitarian group World Vision working in Mindanao.
The typhoon has affected more than 213,000 people, demolished houses and stranded people in two Mindanao regions and parts of the Visayas region, according to the disaster agency. About 170,000 people are in evacuation centers, it said.
The tightly packed but fierce storm churned over several other Philippine islands. By Wednesday afternoon, it was starting to move away from the outlying western island of Palawan. But its outer bands continued to soak a wide area with heavy rain, raising the risk of more mudslides and flash floods.
The storm, dubbed “Pablo” in the Philippines, had blown up into a super typhoon at one point Monday as it moved over the ocean, with sustained winds greater than 240 kph — the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported.
That wind speed is two and a half times the top winds of Severe Tropical Storm Washi, known in the Philippines as Sendong, whose heavy rains swept away entire villages in the same region in December 2011.
“Many emotional people in (Mindanao) trying to prepare for Pablo with Sendong fresh in their minds,” Carin van der Hor, the Philippines director for the children’s charity Plan International, wrote Monday on Twitter as the storm approached.
Local authorities have done a better job of relocating people out of vulnerable areas and preparing evacuation centers this time around, according to the Philippine Red Cross.
Washi caught many residents off guard. It was a weaker storm, but its torrential rain triggered landslides and flash floods in the middle of the night, when many people were sleeping. More than 1,200 people died and hundreds of thousands were left homeless, prompting a humanitarian crisis.
Ahead of Bopha’s arrival on Tuesday, government agencies relocated tens of thousands of people to evacuation centers. They also moved millions of dollars worth of relief supplies into position for quick delivery to storm-hit regions and put emergency crews, the military and hospitals on standby.
School classes were suspended in many cities, and dozens of flights were canceled, according to the national disaster agency. About 5,000 travelers were left stranded at ports across the country as of Wednesday because of disruption to ferry services.
Palau, a tiny island nation roughly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) east of Mindanao, had a close shave with Bopha earlier in the week as the typhoon churned past, catching some outlying parts of the archipelago.
“It was headed right toward Palau,” said Derek Williams, a meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service in Guam. But at the last minute, “it just turned to the west and fortunately went south of them,” he said.
“I really think they escaped the brunt of the storm,” Williams said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, noting that Palau doesn’t usually get hit by strong typhoons.
Bopha nonetheless brought down a lot of trees and caused widespread power outages in Palau, according to Williams.
“The fast movement of the system really prevented a lot of flooding,” he said. “I think probably only a few inches of rain fell, so that’s certainly good news, because Palau itself is susceptible to mudslides.”
— CNN’s Sarita Harilela and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.