An estimated 10,000 people might have been killed in the central Philippine province of Leyte alone, which was almost completely destroyed by the powerful typhoon Haiyan, local authorities said.
The typhoon has devastated up to 80 percent of the Leyte province area as it ripped through the Philippines, Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria told Reuters.
“We had a meeting last night with the governor and other officials. The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died,” Soria said.
Most of the dead drowned or were killed by collapsed buildings, authorities say.
The UN’s humanitarian agency puts the figure of people displaced at just under 331,000, while those whose lives have also been “affected” by the typhoon number a huge 4.3 million across 36 provinces.
People walking the streets like ‘zombies’
The situation in the street reminds one witness of a “movie”. Jenny Chu, a medical student in Leyte told Reuters that “people are walking like zombies, looking for food.”
Meanwhile, reports came in that a big part of Visayas, the group of islands where Leyte and other major islands are located, has sustained great damage.
Mila Ward, a Philippine-born Australian on vacation in Leyte spoke of the human misery that was abundant in the streets everywhere one looked. “They were covered with blankets, plastic,” she spoke of the hundreds of bodies strewn around the streets. “There were children and women,” Ward added.
“It’s like the end of the world”, said another witness – Nancy Chang – who was on business in Tacloblan City and said that she had to walk for three hours through a mess of mud and floating debris to reach a military-led evacuation at the airport.
That airport itself was all but destroyed; with seawater so strong it shattered the glass of the control tower. A Reuters reporter was stranded there, recounting how the water had risen to four meters.
“It was like a tsunami. We escaped through the windows and I held on to a pole for about an hour as rain, seawater and wind swept through the airport…some of my staff survived by clinging to trees. I prayed hard all throughout until the water subsided,” said the reporter, 47-year-old Efren Nagrama, who discovered five bodies while in the chapel there.
Police have been deployed to patrol the ruins of Tacloblan to prevent looting as desperate residents look for food and water, said Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, describing the situation as “horrific.”
“The dead are on the streets, they are in their houses, they are under the debris, they are everywhere,” said Lim, adding that only about 400 bodies have been recovered so far.
The Red Cross said earlier that 1,200 people we confirmed dead in the Philippines.
Roxas said earlier on Saturday that it was too soon to announce any final figures.
“The rescue operation is ongoing. We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured,” Roxas told AP. “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.”
Government officials are still waiting to make contact with Guiuan, with its population of 40,000, located in the Mindoro province. The UN says that 80 percent of it is now underwater.
The storm weakened on Saturday after moving away from the Philippines toward Vietnam.
Vietnamese authorities evacuated over 500,000 people to safer areas in preparation for the tumult which is forecast to make a landfall on Sunday afternoon, but that did not stop the disaster from claiming six lives and injuring dozens there too.
International relief effort mission
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the priority for the government was to restore communications and power in remote areas and to deliver relief and medical assistance to families.
The Philippine Red Cross is preparing for a relief mission “because of the magnitude of the disaster,” says Richard Gordon, the agencies head.
But logistically speaking getting aid to the devastated regions of Leyte, 560 km from the capital could be difficult as the airport was destroyed.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry has offered to help by providing search and rescue personal and a mobile hospital. If necessary, Moscow will fly two planes to the Philippines with an operational group of 200 people, if the request is made, the ministry said. Up to 150 Russians are estimated to have been in the affected area at the time of the disaster, according to ministry officials.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington “stands ready to help.” In the meantime the US navy is assessing the extent of the damage on the ground.
The UN will also be involved in the relief effort, the UN Disaster Coordination Team (UNDAC) has arrived in the city of Tacloblan.
“The United Nations agencies in the Philippines, with their humanitarian partners, are supporting the Government and other responders in their efforts to assess the situation and respond rapidly with vital supplies, through the coordination system led by the local authorities,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.
UNICEF estimates that up to 1.7 million children could be affected by the typhoon.
“UNICEF’s first priorities are focused on life-saving interventions – getting essential medicines, nutrition supplies, safe water and hygiene supplies to children and families,” said UNICEF’s representative in the Philippines, Tomoo Hozumi.
In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) has so far allocated $2 million for the response as it sent 40 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits to the victims.
A number of NGOs are also mobilizing their resources to help the families in the Philippines. These include names like Save the Children, World Vision and Habitat for Humanity, as well as an LA-based US relief agency called Operation USA.
Meanwhile, Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based international relief agency is calling for donations to aid recovery efforts and funding for grant distribution to local agencies in the affected areas.
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