Authorities expect a “very high number of fatalities” after one of the strongest typhoons on record devastated central Philippines, cutting communications and severely damaging an airport in one of the hardest-hit regions.
A senior regional police official and a city administrator in the typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city in the central Philippines say the death toll there could reach 10,000 people, according to the Associated Press.
Regional police chief Elmer Soria said he was briefed by Leyte provincial Gov. Dominic Petilla on Saturday and told there were about 10,000 deaths on the island, mostly by drowning and from collapsed buildings.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said that the death toll in the city alone “could go up to 10,000.”
Earlier, the Philippine Red Cross told Reuters that based on reports it estimated at least 1,200 were dead in Tacloban, which is located about 360 miles southeast of Manila, and 200 more in Samar Province.
Interior Secretary Max Roxas arrived in Tacloban Saturday and said it was too early to know exactly how many people had died following Typhoon Haiyan, which was heading toward Vietnam and expected to hit the country’s coast Sunday afternoon.
“The rescue operation is ongoing. We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured,” Roxas said. “All systems, all vestiges of modern living – communications, power water, all are down. Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people in a mass sort of way.”
Rescue crews reported difficulty in delivering food and water to affected areas due to damaged roads and fallen trees.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that America “stands ready to help,” and the president of the European Commission said a team had been sent to “contribute with urgent relief and assistance.”
“The storm surge came in fairly high and there is significant structural damage and trees blown over,” said U.S. Marine Col. Mike Wylie, who is a member of the U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance Group based in Manila.
At least 138 people were confirmed dead, with at least 118 deaths on the hardest-hit Leyte Island, where Tacloban is located.
President Benigno Aquino III said the casualties “will be substantially more,” but gave no figure or estimate. He said the government’s priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas to allow for the delivery of relief and medical assistance to victims.
The Philippine Red Cross and its partners were preparing for a major relief effort “because of the magnitude of the disaster,” said the agency’s chairman, Richard Gordon.
Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said he received “reliable information” by radio from his staff that more than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of Tacloban on Leyte Island.
It was one of six islands slammed by the storm.
The airport in Tacloban, a city of 200,000 located about 360 miles southeast of Manila, looked like a muddy wasteland of debris Saturday, with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars. The airport tower’s glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were flying in and out at the start of relief operations.
Andrews said the seaside airport terminal was “ruined” by storm surges.
Television images showed residents of Tacloban wading through flooded streets littered half-submerged cars, Reuters reported. Communications networks and most roads were cut off after heavy flooding.
“Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing,” Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, told Reuters.
“A lot of the dead were scattered,” said Joseph de la Cruz, who hitched a ride on military plane after walking eight hours to reach the airport.
The Philippine television station GMA reported its news team saw 11 bodies, including that of a child, washed ashore Friday and 20 more bodies at a pier in Tacloban hours after the typhoon ripped through the coastal city.
At least 20 more bodies were taken to a church in nearby Palo town that was used as an evacuation center but had to be abandoned when its roofs were blown away, the TV network reported. TV images showed howling winds peeling off tin roof sheets during heavy rain.
Ferocious winds felled large branches and snapped coconut trees. A man was shown carrying the body of his 6-year-old daughter who drowned, and another image showed vehicles piled up in debris.
“I saw those big waves and immediately told my neighbors to flee. We thought it was a tsunami,” Floremil Mazo, a villager in southeastern Davao Oriental province, told Reuters.
Nearly 800,000 people were forced to flee their homes and damage was believed to be extensive. About 4 million people were affected by the typhoon, the national disaster agency said.
Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 147 mph with gusts of 275 kph 170 mph when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., nearly in 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.
The typhoon’s sustained winds weakened Saturday to 101 mph with stronger gusts as it blew farther away from the Philippines toward Vietnam.