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 – the biggest faced by the Philippines – was only now becoming apparent.
The winds and the sea waves whipped up were so strong that they washed hulking ships inland, which now stood incongruously amid debris of buildings, trees, road signs and people’s belongings.
Authorities estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died. But the government, stunned by the scale of the disaster, has yet to give an official death toll. Still, officials said after surveying the areas there is little doubt that the death toll will be at least that high.
In Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, corpses hung from trees and were scattered on sidewalks. Many were buried in flattened buildings. The entire city appeared to have been obliterated. Survivors wandered through the remains of their flattened wooden homes looking to salvage belongings or to search for loved ones.
Little assistance had reached the city, residents reported. Some took food, water and goods from abandoned shops, malls and homes.
“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.
He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily.
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.
Even though authorities had evacuated 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was so high because many evacuation centers could not withstand the winds and water surges.
It inflicted serious damage to at least six islands in the middle of the eastern seaboard, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
Video from Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township – the first area where the typhoon made landfall – also showed a trail of devastation similar to Tacloban.
“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. … Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you – please help Guiuan.”
The United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst-hit areas was a challenge.
“Reaching the worst-affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” UNICEF Philippines representative Tomoo Hozumi said.
Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the nation’s deadliest natural disaster on record.
Its 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. There were no reports of significant damage or injuries. Later today, the storm was expected to enter southern China and further weaken.