The death toll from one of the most powerful storms on record could reach 10,000 according to officials.
So far Typhoon Haiyan is said to have killed 1,200 people in the Philippines and left many more injured, but the figure could rise dramatically after the full devastation of the ferocious storm was realised.
According to the Red Cross, 1,000 have been left dead in the devastated city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte with a further 200 casualties in Samar Province.
Regional police chief Elmer Soria said he was briefed by Leyte provincial Govenor Dominic Petilla late last night and told there were about 10,000 deaths on the island, mostly by drowning and from collapsed buildings.
About four million people are believed to have been affected by the category five storm, according to the country’s national disaster agency. This figure includes 800,000 who had to be evacuated before the storm struck.
Winds of up to 235mph and gusts of 170mph left a trail of destruction – triggering major landslides, knocking out power and communications and causing catastrophic widespread damage. Hundreds of homes have been flattened and scores of streets flooded.
The storm is now moving towards mainland Asian and is expected to reach Vietnam coastal areas on Sunday morning while humanitarian experts estimate the number of casualties will rise considerably.
Weather forecasts have also predicted more bad weather could be on the way to the Philippines at the beginning of next week, with high winds expected to arrive on Monday.
The Foreign Office in the Philippines’ capital Manila has had no reports of British casualties but it is feared thousands have been left stranded as a result.
About 15,000 British nationals are said to live on the islands and every year 65,000 visit tourist hotspots like northern Cebu Province and Boracay Island, both of which have been savaged by the storm.
Vietnamese authorities have begun evacuating 100,000 people as they prepare to face the full force of the ferocious weather. ‘The evacuation is being conducted with urgency,’ disaster official Nguyen Thi Yen Linh said from central Danang City, where some 76,000 were being moved to safety.
Around 300,000 others have been taken to shelters in the provinces of Quang Ngai, Quang Nam and Thua Thien Hue. Schools were closed and two deputy prime ministers were sent to the region to direct preparations.
The army has been brought in to provide emergency relief with some 170,000 soldiers assisting people after the typhoon hits.
Haiyan is likely to be a category two or three storm when it hits the Vietnamese coast, but the Red Cross has warned some 6.5 million people in in the country could be affected.
It is expected to reach Da Nang province tomorrow morning before moving up the country’s west coast and eventually making its way to the capital, Hanoi.
Weather experts predict the country will experience sea surges, strong winds and up to two feet of rain, triggering massive floods.
Chinese authorities have also issued a level three emergency response throughout the country, ordering fisherman to shelter their boats to prevent any damage.
It will be the 30th typhoon to hit China this year with the central and southern parts of Hainan and Sansha city expected to be hit by downpours in the next 24 hours.
Officials in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia are also taking precautions in an attempt to soften the impact of the ferocious storm.
Humanitarian experts say they expect the number of casualties to be ‘massive’. A Red Cross spokesman said: ‘We now fear that thousands will have lost their lives.’
The UK has sent a team of three experts to the country today to assess the extent of the damage, after which the Government will decide upon its response, a spokesman for the Department for International Development (Dfid) said.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening has also pledged £6 million worth of emergency aid.
She said: ‘My thoughts are with the people of the Philippines, in particular those who have lost loved ones. UK support is now under way.
‘Many thousands of people in remote, hard-to-reach communities have lost their homes and everything they own. They are living in the open and completely exposed to the elements.
‘The absolute priority must be to reach them with shelter and protection as soon as possible.
‘UK support will provide urgently needed access to clean water, shelter, household items and blankets,
‘We are also sending additional humanitarian experts from the UK to work with the DfID team and international agencies, including ensuring partners are prioritising the protection of vulnerable girls and women.’
The category-5 super typhoon Haiyan – Chinese for ‘sea bird’ – smashed into the eastern islands of the Philippines with winds nearly 150mph stronger than the St Jude storm which struck the UK in late October.
Roofs were ripped from houses, ferocious 20ft waves washed away coastal villages, power lines came down and trees were uprooted.
Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said he had received ‘reliable information’ by radio that more than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of Tacloban on hardest-hit Leyte Island.
Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said that the casualty figure ‘probably will increase’ after viewing aerial photographs of the widespread devastation caused by the typhoon.
Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, a senior aide to President Benigno Aquino III, said that the number of casualties could not be immediately determined, but that the figure was ‘probably in that range’ given by Andrews. Government troops were helping recover bodies, he said.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said it was too early to know how many people had died in the storm.
In the aftermath, Filipinos have taken to social media in an attempt to find missing loved ones by posting photos on Twitter.
In Tacloban, a city of more than 200,000 believed to be one of the worst hit cities, corrugated iron sheets were ripped from roofs before crashing into buildings, according to video footage taken by a resident.
Flash floods also turned Tacloban’s streets into rivers, while a pictures from an ABS-CBN television reporter showed six bamboo houses washed away along a beach more than 200 kilometres to the south.
Civil aviation authorities in Tacloban, about 360 miles southeast of Manila, reported the seaside airport terminal was ‘ruined’ by storm surges.
U.S. Marine Col. Mike Wylie, who surveyed the damage in Tacloban prior to possible American assistance, said that the damage to the runway was significant. However, military planes were still able to land with relief aid.
Vice mayor Jim Pe of Coron town on Busuanga, the last island battered by the typhoon before it blew away to the South China Sea, said most of the houses and buildings there had been destroyed or damaged.
Five people drowned in the storm surge and three others are missing. He said: ‘It was like a 747 flying just above my roof.’ adding that his family and some of his neighbours whose houses were destroyed took shelter in his basement.
ABS-CBN also showed fierce winds whipping buildings and vehicles as storm surges swamped Tacloban with debris-laden floodwaters.
In the aftermath, people were seen weeping while retrieving bodies of loved ones inside buildings and on a street that was littered with fallen trees, roofing material and other building parts torn off in the typhoon’s fury.
All that was left of one large building whose walls were smashed in were the skeletal remains of its rafters.
ABS-CBN television anchor Ted Failon, who was able to report only briefly Friday from Tacloban, said the storm surge was ‘like the tsunami in Japan’.
‘The sea engulfed Tacloban,’ he said, explaining that a major part of the city is surrounded on three sides by the waters between Leyte and Samar islands.
Before he left Tacloban today, Failon said he saw people like a ‘pack of rats’ looting a department store taking whatever they could lay their hands on including refrigerators and TV sets. TV footage showed a group of men smiling as they walked away with a large ice cream freezer and other goods.
Relief workers today said they are having difficulties delivering food and other supplies, with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees.
The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands, so delivering aid can take up to two or tree days.
Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang said they struggled to deliver aid in the adverse conditions.
She said: ‘We’ve had reports of uprooted trees, very strong winds and houses made of light materials being damaged
‘We have put rescue teams and equipment at different places, but at the moment we can’t really do much because of the heavy rain and strong winds. There is no power’.
Mrs Pang added the death toll, which is said to have exceeded 1,000, was just an ‘estimate’.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said the enormous rescue operation was still ongoing.
He added: ‘We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured. All systems, all vestiges of modern living – communications, power, water – all are down. Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people in a mass sort of way.’
Ben Webster, disaster response manager for the Red Cross, added: ‘Preparedness is strengthening over the years as agencies become more proficient at preparing for disasters, technology is improving so we can forecast a bit more reliably, so it is getting better in terms of preparation.
‘But there are still hundreds of thousands of families likely to have been impacted, and even if the loss of life isn’t as high as it usually is, these are still people who need homes and livelihoods which will have been impacted by this huge storm.
‘The British Red Cross launched an appeal yesterday which the public can support. We have already released £100,000 yesterday which will support relief items, 10,000 tarpaulins were sent from Kuala Lumpur, and 2,000 hygiene parcels as well.
‘The whole international Red Cross movement will be mobilising to support the Philippines Red Cross and the International Federation in country to be able to respond to the situation.’
Marie Madamba-Nunez of Oxfam, which has already dispatched aid to the Philippines, said: ‘Making sure people have clean water, safe sanitation and a roof over peoples heads will be an immediate priority.
‘These disasters compound the burden of Philippines’ poorest people. Small scale farmers and those relying on fishing to make a living will be hardest hit. Their fields and their boats and tackle will be badly damaged and they will need help not only today but in months to come.
‘Economic solutions to root out poverty and inequality must be paired with minimising the risk of poor communities to the vagaries of weather and climate change.’
Save the Children said up to 7,000 schools could have been damaged by Haiyan, as the aid agency battles to reach the hardest hit areas.
The charity’s country director Anna Lindenfors said: ‘We are very concerned for the poorest and most vulnerable children in some of the hardest hit places like Tacloban where there is likely to be catastrophic damage, especially to the homes of the poorest people who live in buildings made from flimsy materials.’
‘While the immediate focus must be on saving lives, we are also extremely worried that thousands of schools will have been knocked out of action or badly affected by the typhoon.
‘In the worst hit areas this will have a terrible impact on children’s education and it will be important that we help them back to school as quickly as possible.’
Speaking in the aftermath of the storm Paul Knightley, forecast manager at MeteoGroup, described Haiyan as ‘one of the strongest typhoons ever seen before on the planet in the modern age’.
‘It is an incredibly powerful storm, which has now moved through the Philippines. No doubt we will see all sorts of damage has been caused.
‘As far as tropical storms go, this is about the top of the ladder. To get winds approaching 200mph as an average wind speed within the storm – you’re talking the top few percent of all storms that have ever occurred.
‘It may be one of the – if not the – strongest land-falling storm we’ve seen for many years, possibly in recorded history.’
The storm brought further misery to thousands of residents of Bohol who had been camped in tents and other makeshift shelters after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the island last month.
At least 5,000 survivors were still living in tents on the island, and they were moved to schools that had been turned into evacuation centres.
Speaking yesterday, Roger Mercado, governor of Southern Leyte, an island off the coast off the popular tourist region of Cebu, told how dense clouds and heavy rains turned day into night.
‘When you’re faced with such a scenario, you can only pray and pray and pray,’ he said, as weather forecasters warned of ‘catastrophic’ damage.
The governor added: ‘My worst fear is that there will be many massive loss of lives and property.’
In preparation for the typhoon, officials in Cebu province shut down electric services to the northern part of the province to avoid electrocutions in case power pylons are toppled, said assistant regional civil defence chief Flor Gaviola.
President Benigno Aquino assured the public of war-like preparations, with three C-130 air force cargo planes and 32 military helicopters and planes on standby, along with 20 navy ships.
Authorities halted ferry services and fishing operations, while nearly 200 local flights had been suspended. Commuter bus services were also stopped as the storm dumped torrential rain and ripped iron roofs off buildings and houses.
Schools, offices and shops in the central Philippines were closed, with hospitals, soldiers and emergency workers on standby for rescue operations.
‘We can hear the winds howling but the rains are not too strong. We have encountered several distress calls regarding fallen trees and power lines cut. We don’t have power now,’ Samar Vice Governor Stephen James Tan said in a radio interview yesterday.
An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, hit the Philippines each year.
The developing country is particularly vulnerable because it is often the first major landmass for the storms after they build over the Pacific Ocean.
The Philippine government and some scientists have said climate change may be increasing the ferocity and frequency of storms.
Others say Pacific waters were an important reason for the strength of Haiyan, but added it was premature to blame climate change based on the scanty historical data available.
The poverty-stricken country has already endured a year of earthquakes and floods, with no fewer than 24 disastrous weather events.
The Philippines suffered the world’s strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.
The Philippines has known disaster at the hands of mother nature as recently as 2011 when typhoon Washi killed 1,200 people, displaced 300,000 and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.
In September, category-five typhoon Usagi, with winds gusting of up to 149 mph, battered the northern island of Batanes before causing damage in southern China.
Bopha last year flattened three coastal towns on the southern island of Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and wreaking damage estimated at $1.04 billion.
Cambodian authorities said they were closely watching the development of the world’s biggest storm to materialise.
Storm trackers have predicted the storm could reach China on Tuesday, but the wind speeds will have dropped to between 25 and 35mph.