The storm known as Super Typhoon Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines, flooded streets and destroyed buildings, forcing thousands of people from their homes and disrupting travel through the region.
With sustained wind speeds of 195 mph and gusts of 235 mph, well into Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, Haiyan made landfall just before 5 a.m. on the island Samar, more than 400 miles southeast of Manila.
"About 90 percent of the infrastructure and establishments were heavily damaged," said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross.
Two people were electrocuted in storm-related incidents, and a third was struck by lightening, the government said.
But the death toll is expected to climb, especially once aid workers are able to reach areas cut off by the storm, where flood waters reached as high as 10 feet.
If Haiyan's strength came with any silver lining, it's the storm's speed -- 25 mph -- meaning it moved across land quickly, rather than causing even more damage.
Now heading westward across the South China Sea, Haiyan is taking aim at Vietnam's eastern coast. By the time it makes landfall again, it is expected to have weakened to a Category 2 or 3 storm, with winds around 110 mph.
Still, it could cause devastating damage in Vietnam, Laos and inland China, where rain could still cause flash floods.
Haiyan is possibly the strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall, surpassing the 190 mph winds of Hurricane Camille, which came ashore in Mississippi in 1969. Its clouds stretched at one point more than 700 miles, with tropical force winds extending 150 miles from the eye of the storm. And its storm surge could pass 23 feet -- almost twice that of last year's Superstorm Sandy.