As the scale of devastation became clear from one of the worst storms ever recorded, officials projected the death toll could climb when emergency crews reach parts of the archipelago cut off by flooding and landslides. Looters raided grocery stores and petrol stations in search of food, fuel, and water as the government began relief efforts and international aid operations got underway.
Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes, and storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.
Typhoon Haiyan: A woman mourns in front of her husband’s body in a street of Tacloban
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 235kph that gusted to 275kph, and a storm surge of 6m.
Its sustained winds weakened to 133kph as it crossed the South China Sea before approaching northern Vietnam, where it was forecast to hit land early today. Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people.
Hardest hit in the Philippines was Leyte Island, where officials said there may be 10,000 dead in the provincial capital of Tacloban alone. Reports also trickled in from elsewhere on the island and neighbouring islands, indicating hundreds more deaths, although it will be days before the full extent of the storm can be assessed.
“On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street,” said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila, about 580km to the northwest. “They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboard.” She said she passed “well over 100” bodies.
Typhoon Haiyan: Residents put up a makeshift structure among damaged homes
In one part of Tacloban, a ship had been pushed ashore and sat amid damaged homes.
Haiyan inflicted 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 have borne the brunt of the storm. About 4m people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
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 were in Tacloban, a city of about 200,000 and the biggest on the 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. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no mobile phone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.
The Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies it was shipping to Tacloban from the southern port of Davao.
Tacloban’s two largest malls and grocery stores were looted, and police guarded a fuel depot. About 200 police officers were sent into Tacloban to restore law and order.
With rampant looting reported, President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints, and increased security patrols.
Unicef estimated that 1.7m children live in areas hit by the typhoon. Unicef’s supply division in Copenhagen was loading 60 tons of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive in the Philippines tomorrow.
“The devastation is... I don’t have the words for it,” said interior secretary Mar Roxas. “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 yesterday after a weakened Haiyan changed directions and took aim at the country’s north.
Four people in three central Vietnamese provinces died, while trying to reinforce their homes for the storm, the national floods and storms control department said Sunday.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis led prayers in the Vatican for those affected by the typhoon.
“I wish to express my closeness to the people of the Philippines and of that region. Unfortunately there are many victims and the damage is enormous,” Francis told thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
While Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record to hit the Philippines, the country is no stranger to major storms.
Doomed by geography and hobbled by poverty, the Philippines has long tried to minimise the damage caused by the 20 or so typhoons that hit the sprawling archipelago every year.
But despite a combination of preparation and mitigation measures, high death tolls and destruction persist.
The Philippines’ location in the north-western Pacific puts it right in the pathway of the world’s number one typhoon generator, according to meteorologists.
The country of more than 7,000 islands is hit by more storms each year than any other nation — about four times more than countries around the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, said government meteorologist Jori Loiz.
It’s often the first to welcome storms that eventually hit Vietnam and China to the west, and Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan to the north.
The Philippine archipelago is also located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.
A strong quake last month that killed more than 220 people and destroyed thousands of homes in the central Philippines was sandwiched between two powerful typhoons — Haiyan and Usagi, which nipped the northern Philippines in September.