High death toll feared in wake of Philippines typhoon

TACLOBAN, Philippines – As many as 10,000 people are believed to have died in one Philippine city alone when one of the worst storms on record sent giant sea waves, washing away homes, schools and airport buildings, officials said today. Ferocious winds ravaged several central islands, burying people under tons of debris and leaving corpses hanging from trees.

Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 147 miles per hour, with gusts of 170 mph, when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., and nearly in the top category, a 5.

Regional police chief Elmer Soria said he was briefed by Leyte provincial Gov. Dominic Petilla late Saturday and told there were about 10,000 deaths in the province based on reports from village officials in areas where Typhoon Haiyan slammed Friday.

Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said that the death toll in the city alone “could go up to 10,000.” Tacloban is the Leyte provincial capital of 200,000 people and the biggest city on Leyte Island.

On Samar Island, which faces Tacloban, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said today that 300 people were confirmed dead and another 2,000 are missing. He said that the storm surge caused sea waters to rise 20 feet when Typhoon Haiyan hit Friday before crossing to Tacloban. There are still other towns on Samar that have not been reached, he said, and appealed for food and water. Power was knocked out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

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.

The airport in Tacloban, 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 busy flying in and out at the start of relief operations. One Tacloban resident said he and others took refuge inside a parked Jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a surging wall of water.

Vice Mayor Jim Pe of Coron town on Busuanga, the last island battered by the typhoon before it blew away to the South China Sea, said most of the buildings there had been destroyed or damaged. Five people drowned in the storm surge and three others were missing, he said by phone. “It was like a 747 flying just above my roof,” he said, describing the sound of the winds. He said his family and some of his neighbors whose houses were destroyed took shelter in his basement.

In the aftermath of the storm, people were seen weeping while retrieving bodies of loved ones inside buildings and on a street that was littered with fallen trees, roofing material and other building parts torn off in the typhoon’s fury. All that was left of one large building whose walls were smashed in were the skeletal remains of its rafters.

Many packed evacuation centers collapsed in Tacloban as the typhoon raged, a police official said. He said he saw a popular mall being looted Saturday by residents who carted away anything they can lay their hands on, including a flat-screen TV, a small refrigerator, food items, clothes and even a Christmas tree. Smaller shops with guards brandishing their pistols were spared, said the official.

ABS-CBN television anchor Ted Failon, who was able to report only briefly Friday from Tacloban, said the storm surge was “like the tsunami in Japan.” “The sea engulfed Tacloban,” he said, explaining that a major part of the city is surrounded on three sides by the waters between Leyte and Samar islands.

Ferocious winds felled large branches and snapped coconut trees. A man was shown carrying the body of his 6-year-old daughter who had drowned, and another image showed vehicles piled up in debris.

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.

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