MANILA, Philippines — One of the strongest storms on record slammed into the central Philippines on Friday, killing at least four people, forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes and knocking out power and communications in several provinces. But the nation appeared to avoid a major disaster because the rapidly moving typhoon blew away before wreaking more damage, officials said.Typhoon Haiyan raced across a string of islands from east to west — Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Panay — and lashed beach communities. Nearly 750,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 147 mph with gusts of 170 mph when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., knocking on the door of the top category, a 5. Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same thing. They are just called different names in different parts of the world.Because of cut-off communications in the Philippines, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage. At least two people were electrocuted in storm-related accidents, one person was killed by a fallen tree and another was struck by lightning, official reports said. Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado said the typhoon triggered landslides that blocked roads, uprooted trees and ripped roofs off houses around his residence. The dense clouds and heavy rains made the day seem almost as dark as night, he said. “When you’re faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray,” Mercado told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that mayors in the province had not called in to report any major damage.