Typhoon Yolanda kills estimated 10,000

Posted on November 11, 2013

TACLOBAN -- One of the most powerful storms ever recorded killed at least 10,000 people in the central Philippines, a senior police official said yesterday, with huge waves sweeping away entire coastal villages and devastating the region’s main city.

Super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) destroyed about 70% to 80% of the area in its path as it tore through Leyte province on Friday, said police chief superintendent Elmer Soria.

As rescue workers struggled to reach ravaged villages along the coast, where the death toll is as yet unknown, survivors foraged for food as supplies dwindled or searched for lost loved ones.

"People are walking like zombies looking for food," said Jenny Chu, a medical student in Leyte.

"It’s like a movie," she further explained.

Most of the deaths appear to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris that many said resembled a tsunami, leveling houses and drowning hundreds of people in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation.

The national government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest estimate of deaths, a sharp increase from initial estimates on Saturday of at least 1,000 killed by a storm whose sustained winds reached 313 kilometer (km) per hour (kph) with gusts of up to 378 kph.

"We had a meeting [Saturday] night with the governor and the other officials. The governor said, based on their estimate, 10,000 died," Mr. Soria told Reuters. "The devastation is so big."

More than 330,900 people were displaced and 4.3 million "affected" by the typhoon in 36 provinces, the United Nations (UN) humanitarian agency said, as relief agencies called for food, water and tarpaulins for the homeless.

Witnesses and officials described chaotic scenes in Leyte’s capital, Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 about 580 km southeast of Manila, with hundreds of bodies piled on the sides of roads and pinned under wrecked houses.

The city lies in a cove where the seawater narrows, making it susceptible to storm surges.

The city and nearby villages as far as one kilometer from shore were flooded, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes. TV footage showed children clinging to rooftops for their lives.

Many Internet users urged prayers and called for aid for survivors in the largely Roman Catholic nation on social media sites such as Twitter.

"From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami," said Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II, who had been in Tacloban since before the typhoon struck the city.

"I don’t know how to describe what I saw. It’s horrific."

Mila Ward, an Australian citizen and Filipino by birth who was in Leyte on vacation visiting her family, said she saw hundreds of bodies on the streets.

"They were covered with blankets, plastic. There were children and women," she said.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said aerial surveys showed "significant damage to coastal areas with heavy ships thrown to the shore, many houses destroyed and vast tracts of agricultural land decimated".

The destruction extended well beyond Tacloban.

Officials had yet to make contact with Guiuan, a town of 40,000 that was first hit by the typhoon.

Baco, a city of 35,000 people in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80% under water, the UN agency said.

There were reports of damage across much of the Visayas, a region of eight major islands, including Leyte, Cebu and Samar.

Many tourists were stranded. "Seawater reached the second floor of the hotel," said Nancy Chang, who was on a business trip from China in Tacloban City and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation at the airport.

"It’s like the end of the world,"she added.

Six people were killed and dozens wounded during heavy winds and storms in central Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast, state media reported, even though it had weakened substantially since hitting the Philippines.

Vietnam authorities have moved 883,000 people in 11 central provinces to safe zones, according to the government’s Web site.

Despite weakening, the storm is likely to cause heavy rains, flooding, strong winds and mud slides as it makes its way north in the South China Sea.

Looters rampaged through several stores in Tacloban, witnesses said, taking whatever they could find as rescuers’ efforts to deliver food and water were hampered by severed roads and communications.

Mobs attacked trucks loaded with food, tents and water on Tanauan bridge in Leyte, said Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard J. Gordon. "These are mobsters operating out of there."

Tecson John Lim, the Tacloban city administrator, said city officials had so far only collected 300-400 bodies, but believed the death toll in the city alone could be 10,000.

International aid agencies said relief efforts in the Philippines were stretched thin after a 7.2-magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by a conflict with Muslim rebels in southern Zamboanga province.

The World Food Program said it was airlifting 40 tons of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed 120,000 people for a day, as well as emergency supplies and telecommunications equipment.

Tacloban city airport was all but destroyed as seawaters swept through the city, shattering the glass of the airport tower, leveling the terminal and overturning nearby vehicles.

A Reuters reporter saw five bodies inside a chapel near the airport, placed on pews.

Airport manager Efren Nagrama, 47, said water levels rose up to four meters (13 feet).

"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," he said. "Some of my staff survived by clinging to trees. I prayed hard all throughout until the water subsided."

The Philippines endures a seemingly never-ending pattern of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters.

This is because it is located along a typhoon belt and the so-called Ring of Fire, a vast Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

However, if the feared death toll of above 10,000 is correct, Yolanda would be the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the Philippines.

Until Yolanda, the deadliest disaster in the Philippines was in 1976, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the Moro Gulf on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, killing between 5,000 and 8,000 people.

Yolanda set other apocalyptic-style records with its winds making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year, and one of the most powerful ever recorded.

Witnesses in Tacloban recalled waves up to five meters (17 feet) high surging inland, while aerial photos showed entire neighborhoods destroyed with trees and buildings flattened by storm surges that reached deep inland.

"The effects are very similar to what I have seen in a tsunami rather than a typhoon," the Philippine country director of the World Food Program, Praveen Agrawal, who visited Tacloban, told AFP.

"All the trees are bent over, the bark has been stripped off, the houses have been damaged. In many cases they have collapsed."

In Washington, the Pentagon announced that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had responded to a request from the Philippines for military aid.

"Secretary Hagel has directed US Pacific Command to support US government humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan," it said.

"The initial focus includes surface maritime search and rescue, medium-heavy helicopter lift support, airborne maritime search and rescue, fixed wing lift support and logistics enablers."

UN leader Ban Ki-moon also pledged that UN humanitarian agencies would "respond rapidly to help people in need."

Mr. Ban is "deeply saddened by the extensive loss of life" and devastation caused by Haiyan, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in a statement.

On Bantayan Island off the northeastern top of Cebu, the smell of debris and freshly cut wood hang in the air as residents huddle over makeshift fire pits to keep warm and cook their food amid the ruins of their homes.

Electricity, water and telecommunications were still down yesterday, two days after Yolanda slammed into the island and the rest of northern Cebu on Friday.

A total of 13 people, including a one-year-old infant, were confirmed dead in Cebu as of yesterday, Cebu Governor Hilario P. Davide III said.

Mr. Davide led a team that established first contact with the devastated municipalities in northern Cebu over the weekend.

The team -- composed of the provincial administrator, provincial engineer, disaster management officer, police, army and civilian volunteers -- helped clear the Cebu North Road and access roads to hospitals, established high frequency radio facilities in the affected towns, and conducted rapid assessment of the affected area.

Mobile telecommunications provider Smart Communications, Inc. also set up satellite phones for the use of the public.

On Bantayan Island, a huge sign saying "We are in need of volunteers," greets people entering the municipal hall compound.

Mayor Ian Christopher Escario said 90% of the island was damaged by the typhoon.

In some areas, as much as 98% of homes have been left in shambles, displacing some 9,545 families on the island alone.

"As the damage mounts, greater support from the people and government will be needed in order for the island to recover," he said.

Main concerns at present are water and electricity, he said. The island is pitch black at night.

"It is especially difficult because our potable water sources run on electricity. Food and medicine may also run out soon," Mr. Escario said.

So far, he said 150 young people have volunteered and helped clear roads of downed power lines and fallen trees to provide access to all three municipalities on the island, namely Santa Fe, Bantayan and Madridejos.

"Bantayanons will rise from this disaster," Mr. Escario added.

Bantayan is considered the egg basket of the Visayas, producing an average of 1.1 million eggs a day from a layer population of 1.5 million.

Chicken coops, however, have been destroyed, forcing breeders to sell live chicken at three heads for P100, half the breakeven price.

Bantayan and the rest of northern Cebu are also known for the beaches and resorts.

"Our tourism industry is again affected. Bantayan, Malapascua and Camotes islands were all affected by the typhoon," said Lito Maderazo, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In Davao City, The local government is releasing P8 million in cash assistance and has decided to send more than 60 personnel to Leyte to assist in relief operations.

Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte said an initial team as many as 50 personnel was sent to the devastated province midnight of Saturday.

A convoy headed by this city’s Central 911 rescue team officer-in-charge Emmanuel R. Jaldon traveled by land to Leyte via the Caraga region.

The second team, which will be headed by Mr. Duterte, will be leaving for Leyte today.

"I am begging the New People’s Army rebels not to harm the convoy since they were sent to assist the victims in Leyte," Mr. Duterte said.

Mr. Jaldon said on Saturday Central 911 has been on standby even before the landfall of Yolanda to assist those who will suffer the brunt of the storm in the Davao Region.

The first team that left the city consists of rescue and retrieval, medical, engineering, police and military personnel.

Some members from the City Social Services Development Office also joined the team.

The Davao City council will call a special session today to pave the way for the approval of a resolution that will provide up to P8 million in cash assistance to victims of Yolanda in Leyte.

"The cash assistance to the typhoon victims may be sourced from the quick response fund or the calamity fund," Councilor Danilo C. Dayanghirang, chairperson of the committee on finance ways and means, said.

The city is set to give a cash aid of P2 million to Tacloban, P3 million to the province of Southern Leyte and P3 million to the province of Leyte.

Mr. Dayanghirang said majority floor leader Tomas J. Monteverde has already called up all council members for the planned special session since they have to prepare the necessary documents for the release of the cash assistance.

"We have already received instructions from the mayor but we still have to finalize the amount that the city will provide to the typhoon victims," he said. "We will probably take the same approach we followed when we provided the cash assistance to Bohol last month," he added.

The city council previously approved an P18 million cash assistance to Cebu and Bohol when the provinces were hit by a strong earthquake last month.

Police said they had deployed special forces to contain looters in Tacloban, the devastated provincial capital of Leyte.

"Tacloban is totally destroyed. Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families," high school teacher Andrew Pomeda, 36, told AFP, as he warned of the increasing desperation of survivors.

"People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food, rice and milk... I am afraid that in one week, people will be killing from hunger."

On the neighboring island of Samar, a local disaster chief said 300 people were killed in the small town of Baser.

He added another 2,000 were missing there and elsewhere in Samar, which was one of the first areas to be hit when Yolanda swept in from the Pacific Ocean. -- Reuters, AFP, John Paolo G. Bago in Cebu City and Carmencita A. Carillo in Davao City