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Reports from worst-hit areas suggest the death toll will rise significantly as storm’s passing reveals scale of damage
At least 100 people have died in the Philippines from the impact of super typhoon Haiyan, a senior government official said on Saturday. Bodies were lying in the streets, according to an initial report from an aviation officer in the central city of Tacloban, said Captain John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.
Andrews told the Associated Press the “reliable” information about the deaths was relayed to him by his staff in Tacloban. He said messages from civil aviation authorities in Tacloban to the capital, Manila, could be relayed through another airport in the central Philippines only once every few hours to conserve radio batteries.
Officials said most of the houses in Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 people, had been destroyed in a surge of flood water and high winds, according to Reuters. Before communications were cut on Friday, city officials had reported heavy flooding. Mobile phone networks, power lines and trees were toppled and most roads were cut off.
“Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing, but with partial damage,” said Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency.
The Philippine television station GMA reported its news team saw 11 bodies, including that of a child, washed ashore on 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 centre 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 six-year-old daughter, who drowned, and another image showed vehicles piled up in debris.
Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, was leaving the Philippines behind on Saturday, having flattened houses, triggered landslides and floods and knocked out power and communications across a number of islands. More than 750,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Forecasters said the storm was expected to pick up renewed strength over the South China Sea on its way toward Vietnam.
There were hopes the Philippines had avoided a worse disaster because the rapidly moving typhoon blew away before wreaking more damage, officials said. But because communications were severed, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage. Early reports said at least two people were electrocuted in storm-related accidents, one person was killed by a fallen tree and another was struck by lightning.
Southern Leyte governor Roger Mercado said the typhoon ripped roofs off houses and triggered landslides that blocked roads. The dense clouds and heavy rains made the day seem almost as dark as night, he said.
“When you’re faced with such a scenario, you can only pray and pray and pray,” Mercado told the Associated Press by telephone. He said mayors in the province had not called in to report any major damage. “I hope that means they were spared and not the other way around,” he said. “My worst fear is there will be massive loss of lives and property.”
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the disaster response agency, said the speed at which the typhoon sliced through the central islands helped prevent its 375-mile band of rain clouds dumping enough of their load to overflow waterways. Flooding from heavy rains is often the main cause of deaths from typhoons. “It has helped that the typhoon blew very fast in terms of preventing lots of casualties,” regional military commander Lieutenant-general Roy Deveraturda said. He said the evacuation of so many villagers before the storm also saved many lives.
As relief workers began assessing the damage, US secretary of state John Kerry said his country stood ready to help. “Having so recently had my own visit to the Philippines prevented by another powerful storm, I know that these horrific acts of nature are a burden that you have wrestled with and courageously surmounted before. Your spirit is strong,” Kerry said in a statement.
Among the evacuees were thousands of residents of Bohol who had been camped in tents and other makeshift shelters since a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit the island province last month. Relief workers said they were struggling to find ways to deliver food and other supplies, with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees.