Yolanda’s death toll: 10,000; Tacloban totally destroyed

TACLOBAN—The death toll from super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), which decimated entire towns in the Visayas, could soar well over 10,000, authorities warned Sunday, making it the country’s worst recorded natural disaster.

The horrifying estimates came as rescue workers appeared overwhelmed in their efforts to help countless survivors of Yolanda, which sent tsunami-like waves and merciless winds rampaging across a huge chunk of the archipelago on Friday.

 Damage assessment. President Benigno Aquino III and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (leftmost) discuss the damage wrought by the storm in Tacloban. Shown with them is Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II (third from left).
Police said they had deployed special forces to contain looters in Tacloban, the devastated provincial capital of Leyte, while the United States announced it had responded to a Philippine government appeal and would send military help.

“Tacloban is totally destroyed. Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families,” high school teacher Andrew Pomeda, 36, said, as he warned of the increasing desperation of survivors.

“People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food, rice and milk... I am afraid that in one week, people will be killing from hunger.”

Authorities were struggling to even understand the sheer magnitude of the disaster, let alone react to it, with the regional police chief for Leyte saying 10,000 people were believed to have died in that province alone.

“We had a meeting last night with the governor and, based on the government’s estimates, initially there are 10,000 casualties (dead),” Chief Supt. Elmer Soria told reporters in Tacloban.

“About 70 to 80 percent of the houses and structures along the typhoon’s path were destroyed.”

On the neighboring island of Samar, a local disaster chief said 300 people were killed in the small town of Baser.

He added another 2,000 were missing there and elsewhere on Samar, which was one of the first areas to be hit when Yolanda swept in from the Pacific Ocean with maximum sustained winds of 315 kilometers an hour.

Dozens more people were confirmed killed in other flattened towns and cities across a 600-kilometer stretch of islands through the central Philippines.


 What the typhoon wrought. The body of a dead man is seen near the bay in Tacloban on Sunday, three days after Super Typhoon Yolanda wiped out entire towns in the Visayas and killed perhaps more than 10,000 people.  AFP
While the official death toll posted by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was at 229 as of 7 p.m. Sunday, the number was expected to rise as the government receives reports from provinces still out of reach, Maj. Rey Balido, spokesman of the council, said in a text message.

In addition to the deaths in the Visayas, four people were killed in Palawan, one drowned in Batangas and one was crushed by a tree in Quezon province, the council said. One person was struck by lightning in Zamboanga City and one was electrocuted in Surigao del Sur, the agency said.

Until Yolanda, the deadliest disaster in the Philippines was in 1976, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the Moro Gulf on Mindanao, killing between 5,000 and 8,000 people.

Yolanda set other apocalyptic-style records with its winds making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year, and one of the most powerful ever recorded.

Witnesses in Tacloban recalled waves up to five metres (17 feet) high surging inland, while aerial photos showed entire neighborhoods destroyed with trees and buildings flattened by storm surges that reached deep inland.

“The effects are very similar to what I have seen in a tsunami rather than a typhoon,” the Philippine country director of the World Food Program, Praveen Agrawal, who visited Tacloban, said.

“All the trees are bent over, the bark has been stripped off, the houses have been damaged. In many cases they have collapsed.”

President Benigno Aquino III flew to Tacloban Sunday to oversee rescue and relief efforts and to hand out food to typhoon victims.

On Saturday, Mr. Aquino said the government was prepared to use P23 billion from various agencies and his discretionary fund for relief and rebuilding efforts in the typhoon-ravaged towns and provinces.

In Washington, the Pentagon announced that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had responded to a request from the Philippines for military aid.

“Secretary Hagel has directed US Pacific Command to support US government humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan,” it said.

“The initial focus includes surface maritime search and rescue, medium-heavy helicopter lift support, airborne maritime search and rescue, fixed wing lift support and logistics enablers.”

Tacloban residents pushing a trolley of goods they had looted from a store.  AFP
United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon also pledged that UN humanitarian agencies would “respond rapidly to help people in need.”

Ban is “deeply saddened by the extensive loss of life” and devastation caused by Yolanda, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in a statement.

Several units of the Philippine Army were deployed in the disaster response and rescue operations in the Visayas, particulary in Leyte and Samar.

The Disaster Response Task Force from the 8th Infantry Division led by its Assistant Division Commander Brig. Gen. Virgilio M Espineli proceeded to Tacloban City.

Members of the 20th, 43rd and 87th Infantry battalions were also ready to be deployed, military officials said.

Earlier, the Armed Forces mobilized units from the 3rd and 8th Infantry Divisions, as well as the 53rd Engineering Brigade to help in the disaster response and rescue operations.

Almost 4.5 million Filipinos, or about 4 percent of the population, were affected by Yolanda, mostly in central provinces in the Visayas island group, before the storm left the country, the government said.

The Philippines was the nation most affected by natural disasters in 2012, with more than 2,000 deaths, according to the Brussels-based Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake left 222 dead in the Visayas on Oct. 15.

Television images broadcast from Tacloban showed bodies on the streets and floating in the sea, homes reduced to rubble, structures with roofs ripped off, roads blocked by felled trees and people crying.

Almost 3,500 homes were damaged and four airports remain shut, the disaster agency said. Tacloban’s airport was destroyed and only the runway remains, John Andrews of the state aviation authority said Saturday.

Over local radio Saturday night, Arteche Mayor Rolando Evardone said in a text message to his brother, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, that some 331 people were dead in his town.

Iloilo province was placed under a state of calamity, with 45 dead.

Mayor Edgar Boco of Hernani, Eastern Samar, also said they have already buried in a mass grave some 57 dead who were in a state of decomposition.

In Coron, Palawan, four people died while about 400 tourists were stranded after the devastation brought by super typhoon Yolanda, the ABS-CBN network reported.

The network quoted Chippy Alarcon, Coron Tourism officer, as saying that 300 to 400 tourists were stranded in the area and some of them have started helping to repack relief packages.

A C-130 plane from the Air Force was expected to take the tourists back to Manila in two to three days.

The disaster council said power in most of the municipalities in the seven regions hit by Yolanda remained out due to damaged transmission lines.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who visited communities near the shore of Tacloban told a TV interview Saturday that all the houses there were made of light materials and snapped like matchsticks.

He said practically all the dwellings up to a kilometer inland were destroyed, and nothing was left standing.

Communications were still down in Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Cebu, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Samar, Northern Samar and Eastern Samar and Surigao del Norte.

The government was still assessing the impact of Yolanda on the nation’s economy, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said by text message Saturday. It can still meet the top end of a 6 percent to 7 percent economic growth target this year, he added.

Typhoon Yolanda’s total economic impact may reach $14 billion, about $2 billion of which will be insured, according to a report by Jonathan Adams, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, citing Kinetic Analysis Corp.

The United Nations World Food Program said it’s ramping up operations in the country after surveying the damage in Leyte and Samar provinces. WFP, the largest humanitarian organization in the world, estimates 2.5 million people will require emergency assistance and has mobilized an initial $2 million for its response. An appeal for further aid through its website will be made as needs become clearer, the agency said.

“The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination Team, said in a statement.

“This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumble weed and the streets are strewn with debris.”

Yolanda moved out of the Philippines and into the South China Sea on Saturday, from where it tracked towards Vietnam.

Although it weakened out at sea, more than 600,000 people were evacuated in Vietnam ahead of its expected landfall on Monday morning. Compiled from reports from AFP, Francisco Tuyay, Bloomberg


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