Philippine Super Typhoon: Red Cross Fears 1000 Deaths

Red Cross Fears 1000 Deaths in Philippine Typhoon (New York Times, Nov 8, 2013):

MANILA — The powerful typhoon that swept across the Philippines on Friday cut a path of destruction though several central islands, leaving the seaside city of Tacloban in ruins and leading to early, unconfirmed estimates of at least 1,200 dead.

Strong winds from the typhoon hit a coastal town in Laguna Province. More than 700,000 evacuated ahead of the storm.

Although the government said it could confirm only about 140 deaths so far, the Red Cross in Manila said its people on the ground were reporting an estimated 1,000 deaths on Leyte Island, where Tacloban is, and about 200 from the neighboring island of Samar.

“The local Red Cross chapter has seen many bodies,” Gwendolyn Pang, the secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said in a text message. “An actual body count has to be done to determine the exact number.”

By some accounts, Typhoon Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines, was one of the strongest storms on record when it hit land, with some meteorologists reporting sustained winds in excess of 190 miles per hour.

Photos and television footage showed fierce winds ripping tin roofs off homes and sending ocean water crashing into buildings, some of which crumpled. Footage from Tacloban shows water rushing through the streets of the city, which has an estimated population of 220,000.

Reuters quoted a spokesman for the national disaster agency as saying almost all the houses there were either badly damaged or destroyed, and reported that the manager of the airport, on a strip of land that juts into the ocean, had estimated that water there rose up to 13 feet.

The Associated Press quoted a bicycle taxi driver who lives near the airport as saying that he and his family took refuge in a parked jeep, which was swept away in the roiling waters. The man, Sandy Torotoro, said that as the vehicle floated by, many people screamed for help as they were swept away, waving their hands above the water.

“But what can we do?” he said. “We also needed to be helped.”

Officials have reported seeing bodies strewn along the roadside and survivors desperately searching for food and water.

The Social Welfare and Development Department reported that the storm affected 4.28 million people in about 270 towns and cities spread across 36 provinces in the central Philippines.

President Benigno S. Aquino III said at a news briefing on Saturday evening in Manila that he would visit the hardest-hit areas on Sunday, and that he expected there to be “substantially more” deaths than the 140 the government has confirmed so far. “We are not prepared to say how much more at this point in time, because that is also being collated,” he said.

Mr. Aquino added that the restoration of communications was a priority so that rescue efforts can be coordinated. The government has been flying in military cargo planes carrying food, clothing and shelters, but roads blocked by debris have made distribution difficult.

A United Nations disaster assessment team visited the area on Saturday.

“The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of the team, said in a statement, referring to the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia and other countries. “This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed, and the streets are strewn with debris.”

“The roads between the airport and the town are completely blocked,” he said, “and relief operations will be extremely difficult.”

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