TACLOBAN, Philippines — Rescuers faced blocked roads and damaged airports today as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines, where thousands are believed dead.
Three days after the Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region, the full scale of the disaster was only now becoming apparent. Authorities estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died.
“Access remains a key challenge as some areas are still cut off from relief operations,” the United Nations office in Manila said Sunday in an e-mailed statement. “Unknown numbers of survivors do not have basic necessities such as food, water and medicines and remain inaccessible for relief operations, as roads, airports and bridges were destroyed or covered in wreckage.”
Philippines President Benigno Aquino called reports that the death toll could top 10,000 in the worst-hit province of Leyte alone “alarming,” but cautioned the numbers are still “subject to verification.”
The confirmed death toll from Typhoon Haiyan was 552, according to police and disaster relief officials.
“We can just for the moment relay that according to the national authorities the dead could reach 10,000,” David Pierre Maquet, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said by phone from Geneva. “It could be close to the reality, but the trouble is in some western highlands there is no access, so nobody can confirm these estimates.”
The Red Cross, as well as providing medicine and food, is operating a tracing service in Tacloban to help people look for missing relatives.
“It is most important now to look after the survivors; we don't want to expose them to the elements, get sick and add to the casualties,” Aquino said Sunday in Manila. “It will be a second tragedy if we fail” in post-disaster management, he said.
In the city of Tacloban, bodies littered sidewalks, and others were buried in flattened buildings.
“This area has been totally ravaged,” said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off.”
He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban were damaged, forcing staff members to relocate temporarily.
Chaos and looting broke out in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, where survivors broke into stores to look for food, medicines and other supplies, said Roger Mercado, governor of the adjacent province of Southern Leyte.
Looters also attacked a Philippine Red Cross truck carrying food packs, water containers and tarpaulins in a coastal town of Tanawan, Richard Gordon, the organization's chairman, told a Manila broadcaster.
Hundreds of police officers from the capital were sent to Tacloban to help restore order in devastated areas, according to Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac.
Mercado said radio messages received from local officials indicated that at least 500 bodies had been recovered and taken to the heavily damaged Tacloban airport.
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 147 mph that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.
Although authorities had evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was so high because many evacuation centers — brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings — could not withstand the winds and water surges. Officials said people who had huddled in those buildings drowned or were swept away.
Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.
The storm's sustained winds weakened to 74 mph as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early today after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory.
Authorities in Vietnam evacuated many as 603,000 people, but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.
Later today, the storm was expected to enter southern China and further weaken while dropping torrential rains on the provinces of Guangxi and Hunan. Guangxi officials advised fishermen to stay onshore.
In the Philippines, Haiyan inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago's more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm.
More than 4 million people were affected by the disaster, including nearly 800,000 displaced, according to Reynaldo Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster relief agency.
Aside from Samar and Leyte, deaths were also reported in the provinces of Iloilo, Capiz, Cebu, Palawan, Masbate, Aklan, Surigao del Sur and Zamboanga City.
Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said the government was still verifying reports on the missing.
“There is a lot of people reported missing; some people have been found and survived the waters,” he said. “There is still hope for some. It's hard to say that all of missing can be categorized as dead.”
The government stepped up relief efforts Sunday, dispatching hundreds of additional rescuers, health workers, soldiers and volunteers to affected areas via military planes.
Commercial flights have been suspended because the airport in Tacloban was washed out, said Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, a former governor of the eastern province.
“We don't have an airport there now,” he told a Manila radio station. “Sometimes I don't know what we will do. The damage is overwhelming.”
Aquino demanded explanations from state and local officials on why the damage was so extensive despite warnings issued days before Haiyan hit, a radio report said.
Video 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 video showed several bodies on the street, covered with blankets.
“Even me, I have no house, I have no clothes. I don't know how I will restart my life, I am so confused,” an unidentified woman said, crying. “I don't know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you — please help Guiuan.”
To the southeast of the Philippines, another tropical depression has formed and may track toward the islands, according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the U.S. Navy.
“The potential for the development of a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is high,” according to the U.S. Navy.
This report includes material from Bloomberg News and Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Relief effort begins after Philippine typhoon
The U.S. and other governments and agencies are mounting a major relief effort to help victims of the Philippine typhoon.
Brian Goldbeck, acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, issued a disaster declaration to provide an immediate $100,000 for relief efforts. Officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development are deployed around the country to monitor the damage.
Other charities working to provide relief in the Philippines include:
UNITED NATIONS WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME
The agency said it has allocated $2 million for the disaster response and officials joined an assessment mission to survey damage in Leyte and Samar provinces.
WFP said it will send more than 40 tons of high energy biscuits and work with the Filipino government to help with logistics and emergency communications systems. It asks for donations at www.wfpusa.org or by texting the word AID to 27722 to instantly donate $10.
UNICEF said that its staff in the Philippines is being repositioned to help in relief efforts and that 66 tons of emergency supplies are being sent from Copenhagen. An airlift set to arrive on Tuesday will include water purification systems, storage equipment and sanitation supplies. Donations can be made to UNICEF at unicef.org/support.
The American Red Cross said it has deployed two people to assist with assessments in the Philippines and activated its family tracing services. It asked those who want to support relief efforts to mail a check to their local American Red Cross chapter, with “Philippines Typhoons and Flood” in the memo line. Go to redcross.org for local chapter information or redcross.org.ph to donate directly to the Philippine Red Cross.
CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES
Catholic Relief Services is accepting donations on its website, emergencies.crs.org, as it begins moving supplies and staff to respond to the typhoon.
World Vision said it is putting together resources to assist 1.2 million people, including food, hygiene kits, emergency shelter and protection. It asked for one-time donations to be made at worldvision.org.
AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE
The committee has begun collecting donations for relief efforts. To contribute, go to www.jdc.org or call 212-687-6200.
Mercy Corps said it has launched emergency response efforts to provide food, water, shelter and basic supplies to typhoon survivors. To contribute, go to http://www.mercycorps.org/typhoon or call 800-292-3355.
The nonprofit aid group is preparing to deploy an emergency response team to the Philippines. To donate go to http://americares.org or call 800-486-4357.