One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded now appears to have devastated cities, towns and fishing villages with heavy loss of life when it played a deadly form of hopscotch across the islands of the central Philippines on Friday.
Barreling across palm-fringed beaches and plowing into frail homes with a force that by some estimates approached that of a tornado, but sprawling across a huge area of this far-flung archipelago, Typhoon Haiyan delivered a crippling blow to this country’s midsection. Disorder and looting over the weekend compounded the destruction.
President Benigno S. Aquino III declared a “state of calamity” in provinces encompassing islands across the breadth of the Philippines. The declaration is designed to release emergency funds from the national coffers.
But those coffers have already been depleted this year by a series of other natural disasters, most notably an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 that also struck the middle of the country four weeks ago.
The first and most vocal city to cry for help over the weekend was Tacloban on Leyte Island, which was also one of the first places hit by the storm. From many other communities along the storm’s track, virtually all communications were cut off.
The typhoon left Tacloban in ruins, as a storm surge as high as 13 feet overwhelmed its streets, with reports from the scene saying most of the houses had been damaged or destroyed in the city of 220,000. More than 300 bodies have already been recovered, said Tecson John S. Lim, the city administrator, adding that the toll could reach 10,000 in Tacloban alone.
Mr. Aquino arrived Sunday in Tacloban to meet with victims of the storm and to coordinate rescue and cleanup efforts. His defense secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, described a chaotic scene there.
“There is no power, no water, nothing,” Mr. Gazmin said. “People are desperate. They’re looting.”
The lack of clear information about the extent of the damage raised the possibility that other areas could have been just as badly hit as Tacloban, where rescue efforts were being concentrated.
News reports from Tacloban told of how officials were unable to get an accurate assessment of the fatalities because law enforcement and government personnel could not be found after the storm, with Tacloban’s mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez, “holding on to his roof” before being rescued, according to the Daily Inquirer newspaper.
The typhoon began turning its deadly force Sunday toward central and northern Vietnam, where more than 500,000 people were evacuated even as meteorologists said the typhoon had begun weakening from the sustained winds of 190 miles an hour that it brought to the Philippines. But as it neared the mainland, it turned northward, its eye skirting the Vietnamese coastline.
Aid efforts in the Philippines were complicated by the magnitude of the devastation, as communications systems were shut down by the storm. But already international aid agencies and foreign governments were rushing to dispatch emergency teams.
At the request of the Philippine government, the United States defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, ordered the deployment of ships and aircraft to bring in emergency supplies and help in the search-and-rescue operations, the Defense Department said. The United States Embassy in Manila made $100,000 immediately available for health and sanitation efforts, its Twitter feed said. A United Nations disaster assessment team was already on the ground.
“The last time I saw something on this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of the United Nations team, said in a statement, referring to the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia and 13 other countries. “This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed.”
Mar Roxas, the Philippine interior minister, said that while relief supplies for Tacloban had already begun arriving, they could not leave the airport because debris was blocking the roads in the area.
“The entire airport was under water up to roof level,” he said, according to the Daily Inquirer.
Photos and television footage from the affected areas showed fierce winds ripping tin roofs off homes and sending waves crashing into wooden buildings that splintered under the force. Large ships were tossed onshore, and vehicles were shown piled atop one another. Video footage from Tacloban showed ocean water rushing through the streets of the city, which is about 360 miles southeast of Manila and is the capital of the province of Leyte.
Robert S. Ziegler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Philippines, said that he was very concerned that the damage reports seemed to be mainly from Tacloban and not from the many fishing communities that line the coast.
The extent of the damage across the country and the rising death toll threatened to make the typhoon the worst storm in Philippine history. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the deadliest storm to hit the Philippines until now was Tropical Storm Thelma, which flooded the town of Ormoc, on Leyte Island, on Nov. 5, 1991, and killed more than 5,000 people.
On Samar Island, which is across the Philippine Sea from Tacloban, Leo N. Dacaynos of the local disaster office put the local death toll from the typhoon at least 300 people, and he said an additional 2,000 were missing, The Associated Press reported. The Social Welfare and Development Office said the storm affected 4.28 million people in about 270 towns and cities spread across 36 provinces in the central Philippines. (Credits – the New York Times Asia Pacific, Reuters and the European Press Photo Agency).
The Master of Disaster