Tacloban City on Saturday put a face to the death and devastation inflicted by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), with bodies scattered in the streets, buildings flattened by savage winds and giant waves, and people walking around dazed and begging for help.
The extent of the destruction in Leyte’s capital, a city of 220,000 people, slowly emerged at daybreak Saturday as the government began to rush aid to areas that Yolanda smashed with 315-kilometer-per-hour winds.
More than four million people were affected across 36 provinces, officials said.
Many of the worst-hit areas remained cut off from communications on Saturday, with power and telephone networks destroyed, but initial accounts from some areas reached by the military and the media painted a deeply ominous picture.
In Tacloban, the city’s airport manager reported more than 100 bodies were littered in and around the facility, with at least 100 more people injured.
“The terminal, the tower, including communication equipment, were destroyed,” Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) deputy chief John Andrews told Agence France-Presse, as he recounted the airport manager’s assessment.
Large areas of Tacloban were flattened, according to a news agency photographer who reached the coastal city aboard a military plane carrying relief supplies.
Storm surges more than three meters (10 feet) had pounded the area, the Philippine Red Cross said.
In scenes reminiscent of tsunami damage, some houses in Tacloban were completely destroyed, with piles of splintered wood lying on concrete slabs, while others had just the stone frames remaining.
Almost all the trees and electric posts were torn down, while cars were overturned.
Some dazed and injured survivors wandered around the carnage asking journalists for water, while others sorted through what was left of their destroyed homes.
Eight bodies had been laid to rest inside the airport’s chapel, which had also been badly damaged.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said the typhoon likely killed hundreds of people.
“I think hundreds,” Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said on ABS-CBN television when asked how many people had died in the coastal town of Palo and surrounding villages that he visited on devastated Leyte island.
Palo and the neighboring city of Tacloban were struck by devastating storm surges early Friday as Yolanda began scything through major central islands, disaster officials have said.
Petilla, a Palo native, was dispatched by President Benigno Aquino 3rd to the island, and surveyed the damage aboard a helicopter.
“We saw 24 corpses in Palo, but officials there reported to us that there are people in nearby areas planning to bring their dead to the town center,” he said.
“Palo, Ormoc, Burauen… Carigara, they all looked the same. The buildings were all unroofed and littered with fallen trees,” he said, describing the devastation in some of the other Leyte towns and cities that he visited.
Rescue work starts
Yolanda blew out of the country Saturday morning as government and civilian volunteer groups started ferrying relief, rescue and telecommunication facilities and volunteer workers to help in the worst-hit areas of the worst ever storm that hit land.
Malacañang officially confirmed receiving reports of over 100 deaths in Tacloban, but hundreds more are missing in Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga City, Surigao del Sur; Masbate, Bicol and Palawan.
CAAP Deputy Director General John Andrews flew to Tacloban on a Philippine Air Force C-130 cargo plane to assess the damage on the airport. He brought with him supplies, food, medicine and communication equipment.
CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss said airport runways in Iloilo, Caticlan, Romblon, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Masbate, Legazpi and Surigao were being cleared of debris.
Military reports identified three of the dead as Regie Francisco Bucoy, 2, who was hit by lightning in Zamboanga City and Jimmy Cabilan, 56, in Surigao del Sur and Rhandy Cejar in Iloilo, both electrocution victims.
Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said in an interview with CNN Secretaries Mar Roxas 2nd of Interior and Local Government and Voltaire Gazmin of National Defense were in the Visayas even before the storm hit.
Almendras said the government was setting up command centers in Western and Eastern Visayas to better coordinate relief efforts.
Eastern Visayas covers the islands of Samar, Leyte and Biliran, while Western Visayas is composed of Aklan, Antique, Negros Occidental, Capiz, Guimaras and Iloilo.
Roxas airport remained closed until Sunday while Kalibo airport is expected to resume operations on Monday. Tacloban and Busuanga airports were severely damaged.
“While the casualties are lower in the Western part compared with the East, the destruction brought by the typhoon was just as bad. We expect more people to be housed in the evacuation centers,” Almendras said.
“We have pre-positioned relief goods and that would be good for two to three days,” he added.
The National Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) placed the death toll from Yolanda at four, with seven people injured and four missing.
Interviewed on state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said Aquino has tasked government officials to prioritize the safety of the people and ensure that the lines of communication are restored as soon as possible.
Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and PAL Express said they would resume their flights once the provincial airports are fully cleared. Over 90 flights had been cancelled because of Yolanda.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) sent a team headed by Special Action Force commander Director Carmelo Valmoria to Eastern Visayas to assist in the search, rescue and rehabilitation efforts in Leyte and restore communication lines, according to PNP Public Information Chief, S/Supt. Theodore Sindac.
Fifteen thousand soldiers had been deployed to the disaster zones, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told Agence France-Presse.
He said helicopters were also flying rescuers into priority areas, while infantry units deployed across the affected areas were also proceeding on foot or in military trucks.
Another area of particular concern was Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people on Samar that was the first to be hit after Yolanda swept in from the Pacific Ocean. The Red Cross said contact had not yet been made with Guiuan.
The Philippines suffered the world’s strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Pablo left about 2,000 people dead or missing in Mindanao.