One of the most powerful typhoons in history is believed to have killed 1,200 people in the Philippines, the Red Cross Saturday, as rescue workers raced to reach towns devastated by tsunami-like waves.
A day after Super Typhoon Haiyan whipped across the central Philippines with maximum sustained winds of around 315 kilometers (195 miles) an hour, a picture emerged of entire communities having been flattened. Authorities said that, aside from the ferocious winds, storm surges of up to three meters (10 feet) high that swept into coastal towns and deep inland were responsible for destroying countless homes.
"Imagine a strip one kilometer deep inland from the shore, and all the shanties, everything, destroyed," Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said after visiting coastal towns in Leyte, one of the worst-hit provinces in the east of the archipelago. "They were just like matchsticks flung inland. All the houses were destroyed."
The official government death toll on Saturday night was 138. But with rescue workers yet to reach or communicate with many ravaged communities across a 600-kilometer stretch of islands, authorities said they were unable to give a proper assessment of how many people had been killed. Philippine Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang said her organization estimated 1,200 people had died, while a UN official who visited Leyte described apocalyptic scenes.
"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of a UN disaster assessment coordination team. "The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami," he said, referring to the 2004 disaster that claimed about 220,000 lives.
Stampa made his comments after arriving in Tacloban, the destroyed capital of Leyte with a population of about 220,000 people. More than 100 bodies were littered in and around Tacloban's airport, according to the facility's manager. AFP journalists who arrived in Tacloban on a military aircraft encountered dazed survivors wandering amid the carnage asking for water, while others sorted through what was left of their destroyed homes.
One resident, Dominador Gullena, cried as he recounted to AFP his escape but the loss of his neighbors. "My family evacuated the house. I thought our neighbors also did the same, but they didn't," Gullena said.