As many as 10,000 people are believed to have died in one Philippine city alone after one of the worst storms ever recorded unleashed ferocious winds and giant waves that washed away homes and schools.
A resident passes by dead bodies that lie on the street .
Corpses hung from tree branches and were scattered along pavements and among flattened buildings, while looters raided grocery stores and petrol stations in search of food, fuel and water.
Officials projected the death toll could climb even higher when emergency crews reach areas cut off by flooding and landslides. Even in the disaster-prone Philippines, which regularly contends with earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical cyclones, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippine archipelago on Friday and quickly barrelled across its central islands before exiting into the South China Sea, packing winds of 147 miles per hour that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge that caused sea waters to rise 20 feet.
It was not until today that the scale of the devastation became clear, with local officials on hardest-hit Leyte Island saying that there may be 10,000 dead in the provincial capital of Tacloban alone.
Reports also trickled in from elsewhere on the island, and from neighbouring islands, indicating hundreds, if not thousands of more deaths, though it will be days before the full extent of the storm’s impact can be assessed.
Haiyan raced across the eastern and central Philippines, inflicting serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, neighbouring Samar Island, and the northern part of Cebu appearing to take the hardest hits. It weakened as it crossed the South China Sea before approaching northern Vietnam, where it was forecast to hit land either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.
On Leyte, regional police chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 deaths there, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most of the deaths were in Tacloban, a city of about 200,000 that is the biggest on Leyte Island.
On Samar, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, while some towns have yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water and said power was out and there was no phone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Reports from the other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.
Television footage from Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township – the first area where the typhoon made landfall – showed a trail of devastation. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees. The ABS-CBN footage showed several bodies laid out on the street, covered only with blankets.
Residents carry relief goods on top of destroyed homes.
A massive relief operation was under way, but the Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were being hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies the agency was shipping from the southern port city of Davao to Tacloban.
With other rampant looting being reported, President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban, as city officials have proposed.
A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.
The massive casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
Mr Aquino flew around Leyte by helicopter today and landed in Tacloban to get a firsthand look at the disaster. He said the government’s priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas and deliver relief and medical assistance to victims.
A resident passes by a toppled car outside an airport terminal.
Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from its US and European allies.
In Washington, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the military’s Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies.
The United Nations office in Geneva said in a statement that the UN and the “humanitarian community have ramped up critical relief operations,” but that access remains a challenge because some areas are still cut off.
Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican in silent prayer for the victims of the typhoon. The Philippines has the largest number of Catholics in Asia, and Filipinos are one of Rome’s biggest immigrant communities.
Even by the standards of storms in the Philippines, Haiyan is a catastrophe of epic proportions and has shocked the impoverished and densely populated nation of 96 million people. Its winds were among the strongest ever recorded, and it appears to have killed many more people than the previous deadliest Philippine storm, Thelma, which killed around 5,100 people in the central Philippines in 1991. The country’s deadliest disaster on record was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791 people.
Tacloban’s two largest shopping malls were looted and petrol stations destroyed by the typhoon.
Residents push a shutter to open a small grocery to get food in Tacloban city.
Police were deployed to guard a fuel depot to prevent the theft of fuel. Two hundred additional police officers came to Tacloban today from elsewhere in the country to help restore law and order.
Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Mr Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.
“I told him all systems are down,” Mr Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”
One Tacloban resident said he and others took refuge inside a parked Jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a surging wall of water.
“The water was as high as a coconut tree,” said 44-year-old Sandy Torotoro, a bicycle taxi driver who lives near the airport with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. “I got out of the Jeep and I was swept away by the rampaging water with logs, trees and our house, which was ripped off from its mooring.
“When we were being swept by the water, many people were floating and raising their hands and yelling for help. But what can we do? We also needed to be helped,” he said.
UNICEF estimated that about 1.7 million children are living in areas impacted by the typhoon, according to the agency’s representative in the Philippines, Tomoo Hozumi. UNICEF’s supply division in Copenhagen was loading 60 metric tons of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday.
“The devastation is ... I don’t have the words for it,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.”
In Vietnam, about 600,000 people living in the central region who had been evacuated returned to their homes today after the weakened storm changed directions and took aim at the country’s north. The storm was approaching landfall tonight with sustained winds of 83 mph.