About 10,000 people are believed dead in Tacloban, the provincial capital of Philippine after one of the worst storms ever recorded unleashed ferocious winds and giant waves that washed away homes, schools and infrastructure.
Corpses hung from tree branches and were scattered along sidewalks and among flattened buildings, while looters raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water.
Even in the disaster-prone Philippines, which regularly contends with earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical cyclones, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippine archipelago on Friday and quickly swept across its central islands, extending into the South China Sea and packing winds of 235 kilometers per hour with a storm surge that caused sea waters to rise 6 meters.
The typhoon raced across the eastern and central Philippines, inflicting serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, neighboring Samar Island, and the northern part of Cebu appearing to take the hardest hits.
It was not until Sunday that the scale of the devastation became clear, with local officials saying that there may be 10,000 dead in the provincial capital of Tacloban alone, even as there are projections that the death toll could climb even higher when emergency crews reach areas cut off by flooding and landslides.
Regional police chief in Leyte, Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 deaths there, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most of the deaths were in Tacloban, a city of about 200,000 that is the biggest on Leyte Island.
Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in Samar, and another 2,000 were missing, while some towns have yet to be reached by rescuers.
He pleaded for food and water and said power was out and there was no cell phone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
A massive relief operation was underway, but the Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were being hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies the agency was shipping Sunday from the southern port city of Davao to Tacloban.
With rampant looting being reported, President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday that he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban, as city officials have proposed.
The national disaster agency can recommend such a measure if the local government is unable to carry out its functions, Aquino said.
A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.
The massive casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
In Washington, defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, directed the military’s pacific command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies.
The United Nations office in Geneva said in a statement Sunday that the U.N. and the “humanitarian community have ramped up critical relief operations,” but that access remains a challenge because some areas are still cut off.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican on Sunday in silent prayer for the victims of the typhoon.
The Philippines has the largest number of Catholics in Asia and Filipinos are one of Rome’s biggest immigrant communities.