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1,200 dead or missing

‘Yolanda’ Cuts Swath Of Destruction; Communities Flattened

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    A body lying in a pew at a chapel in Tacloban City

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    a young boy holding a basin over his head amid ruined houses in Poblacion village, Daanbantayan town, north Cebu

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    and an overturned vehicle near badly damaged structures at the airport in Tacloban City. (EPA, Linus Guardian Escandor II, AFP, and Cheryl Baldicantos)

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    Residents walk through toppled electric posts and trees and tangled cable wires (top photo) in the heart of Tacloban City after it was smashed by super typhoon ‘Yolanda’ last Friday

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    A male body is retrieved from debris

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    A woman’s body is found floating in a flooded street, also in Tacloban. (Linus Escandor II)

Manila, Philippines – The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said yesterday that more than 1,200 people might have been killed in the coastal city of Tacloban in Leyte and in Samar province when one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit land slammed into the country, although the deaths have not yet been confirmed by the government.

PRC Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang  said the numbers came from preliminary reports by Red Cross teams in Tacloban and Samar, among the most devastated areas hit by super-typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) last Friday.

“An estimated more than 1,000 bodies were seen floating in Tacloban as reported by our Red Cross teams,” she told Reuters. “In Samar, about 200 deaths. Validation is ongoing.”

She said she expected a more exact number to emerge after a more precise counting of bodies on the ground in those regions.

But official figures released last night by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) were more conservative with a death toll just above 100 as the PRC count might have included the missing.

But with the swath of destruction in Tacloban City alone and the flattening of communities, the leveling of an airport, and the surge of ocean water slamming into the eastern coastal villages of the Visayas still unreached by rescue or communication, a sharp rise in the dead was expected.

Super Typhoon Leaves

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said that as of 2 p.m. yesterday, Yolanda was already at 915 kilometers west of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. PAGASA also downgraded Yolanda to a typhoon Saturday morning, as maximum sustained winds weakened to 175 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness of up to 210 kph. It was moving to Vietnam at 35 kph.

At its peak, Yolanda had sustained winds of 235 kph and gustiness of up to 275 kph. But foreign meteorologists had it at 315 kph, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year.

The Philippines has yet to resume communications with officials in Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 that appeared to suffer the worst of the typhoon, but a government official estimated at least 100 were killed and 100 wounded.

‘Bodies Lying On The Street’

“Bodies are lying on the street,” said Captain John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Central Command (Centcom) spokesman Lt. Jim Alagao confirmed they have received reports from soldiers in the area that there were “too many” bodies scattered in Tacloban City, Leyte.

“There’s undetermined number of casualties found along the roads. As to the estimate, the report says ‘madaming madami’ (too many),” according to Alagao.

US Marine Col. Mike Wylie, who surveyed the damage in Tacloban prior to possible American assistance, said that the damage to the runway was significant. Military planes were still able to land with relief aid.

Total Devastation

“There’s total devastation. If you’ve been to Tacloban before, maliligaw ka ngayon,” Alagao said, noting that “yun mga landmark talagang wiped out (landmarks were totally wiped out).”

He said the Tacloban airport was in fact totally destroyed, except for the runway.

Alagao further said that based on conversation with soldiers on the ground, “yung mga light materials na mga bahay nawala sa mapa, talagang (houses made of light materials were erased from the map).”

6-Meter Storm Surges

“The storm surge came in fairly high and there is significant structural damage and trees blown over,” he told the AP. Wylie is a member of the US-Philippines Military Assistance Group based in Manila.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said the storm surges of more than three meters (10 feet) had pounded. Other reports said the storm surges reached 5 to 6 meters (15-19 feet)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that America stood ready to help.

Joseph de la Cruz, who hitched a ride on a military plane from Tacloban back to Manila, said he had counted at least 15 bodies.

“A lot of the dead were scattered,” he said, adding that he walked for about eight hours to reach the Tacloban airport.

GMA 7 reported its news team saw 11 bodies, including that of a child, washed ashore Friday and 20 more bodies at a pier in Tacloban hours after the typhoon ripped through the coastal city.

Howling Winds

At least 20 more bodies were taken to a church in nearby Palo town that was used as an evacuation center but had to be abandoned when its roofs were blown away, the TV network reported. TV images showed howling winds peeling off tin roof sheets during heavy rain.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has yet to confirm the toll but broken power poles, trees, bent tin roofs and splintered houses littered the streets of the city, suggesting the toll could be higher.

Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said during the NDRRMC conference at Camp Aguinaldo that they were still verifying reports about the more than 100 casualties in Tacloban.

Television images showed residents of Tacloban, about 580 km southeast of Metro Manila, wading through flooded streets that were littered half-submerged cars.

Before communications were cut on Friday, city officials had reported heavy flooding. Mobile phone networks and most roads were cut off.

Wiped Out

“Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing,” said Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the NDRRMC.

The city’s airport, which is close to the coast, was destroyed by huge waves and several soldiers based there were missing, a military officer told Reuters.

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.

Fears Of Mass Casualties

The initial reports from Tacloban City and Palo raised fears of mass casualties, with Yolanda having devastated many other communities across the Visayas remained cut off from communications.

“We have reports of collapsed buildings, houses flattened to the ground, storm surges and landslides,” Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told AFP, giving an assessment across the whole region.

“But we don’t know really, we can’t say how bad the damage is… hopefully today we can get a better picture as to the effects of the super typhoon.”

Restoring Communication

The government, military, and the Red Cross said one of their top priorities was trying to re-establish contact or reach communities in Leyte and Samar.

Fifteen thousand soldiers had been deployed to the disaster zones, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

“We are flying sorties to bring relief goods, materials and communication equipment,” Zagala said.

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.

Yolanda swept across the Visayas and parts of Luzon and Mindanao throughout Friday before exiting into the West Philippine Sea.

4M People Affected

More than four million people were affected around 36 provinces, the government said.

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 Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean. The Red Cross’s Pang said contact had not yet been made with Guiuan.

Pang also expressed concern for people in the province of Capiz, about 200 kilometers west of Tacloban, on Panay island where she said most of the region’s infrastructure had been destroyed and many houses “flattened to the ground.”

Two vessels submerged while seven ships accidentally drifted off to shallow waters and ran aground in Central Visayas as a result of super typhoon “Yolanda,” the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported yesterday.

Commodore William Melad, district commander of PCG Central Visayas, said that M/V Super Shuttle Ferry 17 sank while it took shelter at Pier 8, Mandaue City amid the onslaught.

In a separate report, the PCG said M/Tug Metro Tug II capsized due to strong waves while it was at Santiago Shipyard in Consolacion, Cebu. “No one was reported hurt or injured after the incident,” the PCG said.

Those that drifted were M/V Schelde Trader, Barge Castor, M/V Osamis Bay 1, M/V Cagayan Bay 1,Barge Big Champ, Barge Roger, and MV Rene.

‘We Thought It Was Tsunami’

Officials started evacuating residents from low-lying areas, coastlines, and hilly villages as early as three days before the super typhoon struck Friday, helping to limit the loss of life, several officials said. But not all headed the call to evacuate.

“I saw those big waves and immediately told my neighbors to flee. We thought it was a tsunami,” said Floremil Mazo, a villager in southeastern Davao Oriental.

Meteorologists said the impact may not have been as strong as feared because the storm was moving so quickly, reducing the risk of flooding and landslides from torrential rain, the biggest causes of typhoon casualties in the Philippines.

Ferry services and airports in the Visayas remained closed, hampering aid deliveries to Tacloban, although the military said two C-130 transport planes managed to land at its airport yesterday.

P365M For PAF Relief Operations

Late Friday night, President Benigno S. Aquino III authorized the release of P365 million to keep government planes operational for the intensified rescue and relief operations in the areas devastated by the super typhoon.

Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. was ordered to augment the funds of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) for the petroleum, oil, and lubricants of aircraft used in disaster response.

The President also directed to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to make sure that everybody is accounted for and to restore electricity and communication lines in affected areas.

Lawmakers, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., agreed to contribute for the typhoons victims.

“I’m thinking what to do actually so that we can really help and where everyone can contribute,” he said, citing the possibility of the House adopting a resolution authorizing one-time donation of P10,000 from the lawmakers’ salaries.

40 Killed Elsewhere

In Palo, Leyte, at least 24 people were reported killed after a storm surge.

In Cebu, two people died of drowning while another one was hit by a fallen tree both in Medellin town during the Yolanda onslaught, according to Chief Supt. Danilo Constantino, director of the Central Visayas regional police.

He said two others were also reported missing also in the province of Cebu while another one in Bohol. “I never thought the winds would be that strong that they could destroy my house,” LynLyn Golfan of Cebu said in a television interview while sifting through the debris.

In Batangas, Roberto Pelicano drowned when the tugboat he was boarding sank off Bauan town.

In Palawan, three people were confirmed dead when they drowned while on their way to an evacuation center in Coron, according to Chief Supt. Melito Mabilin, director of the MIMAROPA (Mindoro provinces, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) regional police.

In Capiz, six people were reported killed while 10 others were reported missing, said Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, Jr., director of the Western Visayas regional police.

Officials also reported one death each in Iloilo, Surigao del Sur, Zamboanga City, and Masbate.

In Antique, seven people on board two pump boats were reported missing when the strong waves sank the watercrafts off Caluya town.

“Antique, Capiz and northern part of Negros Occidental have no power supply,” said Cruz in a phone interview.

Power Outages

Massive power outages were also being experienced in Region 8 – Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Samar, Northern Samar, and Eastern Samar; Camiguin in region 9, Bohol and 24 towns in Cebu as well as parts of Danao City.  (With reports from Ellalyn B. de Vera, Genalyn D. Kabiling, JC Bello Ruiz, Raymund F. Antonio, Charissa M. Luci, Ferdinand F. Castro, Vicky A. Florendo, Sarah C. Imperial)