Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall early Friday morning in Guiuan, a small city in Samar province in the eastern Philippines.
Thousands of people evacuated villages in the central Philippines on Thursday as one of the strongest typhoons in world history took aim the region, which was devastated by an earthquake last month.
Haiyan had intensified and accelerated as it moved closer to the country with sustained winds of 195 mph and ferocious gusts of 235 mph, according to the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
No Atlantic or eastern Pacific hurricane has ever been stronger than Haiyan (typhoons are the same type of storms as hurricanes).
About 10 million people live on the central Philippine islands and are most at risk from a direct strike from Haiyan.
The latest forecast track shows Haiyan passing very near Tacloban, a city of a quarter million people, and Cebu, a city of nearly one million people, reports meteorologist Eric Holthaus of Quartz magazine.
The storm was not expected to directly hit Manila farther north. The lowest alert in a four-level typhoon warning system was issued in the flood-prone capital area, meaning it could experience winds of up to 37 mph and rain.
President Benigno Aquino III warned people to leave high-risk areas, including 100 coastal communities where forecasters said the storm surge could reach up to 23 feet. He urged seafarers to stay in port.
"No typhoon can bring Filipinos to their knees if we'll be united," he said in a televised address.
Haiyan is the fourth typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2013, a nation that typically gets hit by more typhoons than any country on Earth, usually about six or seven each year.
Haiyan is the Chinese word for petrel, a type of bird that lives over the open sea and returns to land only for breeding. The storm is known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.
Governors and mayors supervised the evacuation of landslide- and flood-prone communities in several provinces where the typhoon is expected to pass, said Eduardo del Rosario, head of the government's main disaster-response agency. School classes and plane flights were canceled in many areas.
Aquino ordered officials to aim for zero casualties.
Edgardo Chatto, governor of Bohol island province in the central Philippines, where an earthquake in October killed more than 200 people, said soldiers, police and rescue units were helping displaced residents, including thousands staying in small tents, move to shelters. Bohol is not forecast to receive a direct hit but is expected to be battered by strong winds and rain, government forecaster Jori Loiz said.
"My worst fear is that the eye of this typhoon will hit us. I hope we will be spared," Chatto told the Associated Press by telephone.
After roaring across the Philippines, Haiyan is expected to move into the South China Sea and eventually hit Vietnam and Laos over the weekend, still as a typhoon.
Contributing: The Associated Press, from Manila.