The Philippines government has raised the official death toll from the typhoon disaster to 1,744 people, but the final number is expected to be much higher.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council also said that 2,487 people were injured when Typhoon Haiyan struck the eastern Philippines four days ago.
Both figures are expected to climb, with authorities estimating the storm killed 10,000 or more across a vast region of the country, and displaced about 660,000 others.
A Philippine general said inmates escaped from a prison in Tacloban after breaking down a wall.
Army Brigadier General Virgilio Espineli, the deputy regional military commander, said guards fired shots to try to stop the prisoners from fleeing, and some returned. He did not have a clear number for those who had escaped.
The jail held about 600 prisoners.
Elsewhere, Chinese state media said the typhoon had killed eight people in southern China.
Desperate survivors in the Philippines are pleading for food, water and medicine as rescue workers take on a daunting task.
Bloated bodies lie uncollected and uncounted in the streets and thousands are feared dead in the wake of one of the most powerful storms to hit land.
Typhoon Haiyan packed 147mph winds and whipped up 20ft walls of seawater that tossed ships inland and swept many people out to sea.
There was no one to carry away the dead, with bodies rotting along the main road from the airport to Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country’s remote eastern seaboard.
With shattered communications and transportation links, the final death toll is likely to be days away, and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” it does not surpass 10,000.
Authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon. It is likely to have been the deadliest natural disaster to beset this poor south-east Asian nation.
Philippine soldiers were distributing food and water, and assessment teams from the United Nations and other international agencies were seen for the first time yesterday. The US military dispatched food, water, generators and a contingent of marines to Tacloban, the first outside help in what will swell into a major international relief mission.
Authorities said they had evacuated 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, but many evacuation centres proved to be no protection against the wind and rising water. The Philippine National Red Cross, responsible for warning the region and giving advice, said people were not prepared for a storm surge.
The wind, rain and coastal storm surges transformed neighbourhoods into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Cars and trucks lay upended among flattened homes, and bridges and ports were washed away.
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, with winds that gusted to 170mph. It inflicted serious damage to at least six islands in the middle of the eastern seaboard.
It had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it crossed into southern China yesterday, but it still had gusts up to 60mph and dropped up to 15in of rain over some parts of Guangxi province.
Hardest hit was the southern island of Hainan, where the storm wrenched a cargo ship from its moorings. Three bodies were recovered and four crew members remain missing, China National Radio said.
Four other people in Hainan have been confirmed dead, including two hit by falling objects, according to China National Radio, which said the storm caused up to $700m in damage to agricultural, forestry, poultry and fishing industries.
Another victim drowned in Guangxi, China News Service reported.
The storm’s sustained winds weakened to 74mph as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early yesterday after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory.
Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.
At UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, the envoy from the Philippines broke down in tears as he described waiting in agony for news from relatives caught in the massive storm’s path.
“In solidarity with my countrymen, who are struggling to find food back home ... I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate,” said the envoy, Naderev “Yeb” Sano, who urged delegates to work toward “meaningful” change. His emotional appeal was met with a standing ovation.
President Benigno Aquino III declared a “state of national calamity”, allowing the central government to release emergency funds quicker and impose price controls on staple goods.
He said the two worst-hit provinces, Leyte and Samar, witnessed “massive destruction and loss of life” but that elsewhere casualties were low.
The Philippines, an archipelago nation of more than 7,000 islands, and 96 million people is annually buffeted by storms.
Even by the standards of the Philippines, however, Haiyan was an especially large catastrophe. Its winds were among the strongest recorded, and it appears to have killed more people than the previous deadliest Philippine storm, Thelma, in which about 5,100 people died 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.