By Jim Gomez
TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES: Rescuers faced blocked roads and damaged airports today as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines where thousands are believed dead.
Three days after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region, the full scale of the disaster was only beginning to reveal itself. Authorities estimated that up to as many as 10,000 people may have died. In the city of Tacloban, corpses dangled from trees and were scattered on sidewalks. Many were buried in flattened buildings.
“This area has been totally ravaged,” said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off,” he said.
He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily.
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 147 mph that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.
It inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
Trail of devastation
Video from Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township — the first area where the typhoon made landfall — showed a trail of devastation. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees. The ABS-CBN video showed several bodies on the street, covered with blankets.
“Even me, I have no house, I have no clothes. I don’t know how I will restart my life, I am so confused,” an unidentified woman said, crying. “I don’t know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you — please help Guiuan.”
The United Nations said it was sending supplies but reaching the worst-hit areas was a challenge.
“Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi.
The storm’s sustained winds weakened to 74 mph as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam today after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory. Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people.
Hardest hit in the Philippines was Leyte Island, where regional Police Chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 dead, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most were in Tacloban, the provincial capital of about 200,000 people that is the biggest city on the island.
Reports also trickled in indicating deaths elsewhere on the island.
Towns cut off
On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.
With communications still knocked out in many areas, it was unclear how authorities were arriving at their estimates of the number of people killed, and it will be days before the full extent of the storm is known.
The Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies it was shipping to Tacloban from the southern port of Davao.
President Barack Obama said in a news release that he and his wife, Michelle, were “deeply saddened” by the deaths and damage from the typhoon.
He said the United States was providing “significant humanitarian assistance” and was ready to assist in relief and recovery efforts.