An aerial view shows buildings destroyed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 10 over the Leyte province, Philippines. (Ryan Lim / Malacanang Photo Bureau via Getty Image)
Philippines police commandos prepare to board a C-130 military plane in Manila on Nov. 10 en route to the typhoon devastated city of Tacloban. The Pentagon directed the U.S. military's Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies. (Jay Directo / AFP via Getty Images)
MANILA — As many as 10,000 people may have died in one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded that destroyed whole villages and devastated cities with huge waves and winds of nearly 150 mph.
The Philippines on Sunday were still trying to comprehend the destruction that Typhoon Haiyan brought to this string of islands in the Pacific. Corpses hung from tree branches and were scattered along sidewalks and among flattened buildings. People raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water.
A weakened but still powerful Haiyan was still churning through the South China Sea toward Vietnam, which was evacuating tens of thousands of people from its coast. Haiyan has sustained winds of 100 mph and is due to strike Vietnam by Monday morning.
In the Philippines, authorities were still trying to get to islands that no one had been able to communicate with since the typhoon struck Friday. But those reached revealed immense damage to homes, roads and buildings.
Frantic relatives crowded into the Villamor Airbase in Manila to wait for transport planes that were rescuing people from at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands that were hit hardest.
Maritess Tayag, in her 40s, and her sister, Maryann, 29, arrived at the airport dizzy, shaken and thirsty but elated to be alive. They came from their home in Tacloban on the island of Leyte, one of the hardest hit by the typhoon.
“I was in the house — trapped in my room. The water is up to my nose — I cannot breathe anymore. I am trying to save myself,” said Maritess Tayag, describing the early hours of Saturday when ceaseless wind drove dark seawater mixed with foul-smelling water from canals higher and higher into their homes.
Her brother was in the house too, trying to keep his head above the rising water, she said. But, “It reached up over his head. Then a big wave of fast flood reached up higher.”
“I feel I would die at this moment because I can’t — I don’t know what I will do,” she said, crying.
“I cry a lot of cry shouting ‘Mom!’ Open, open please open help us somebody.”
Her younger sister and sister-in-law made it to the roof. Her brother and mother did not, she said, and both are probably dead.
Maryann described their town as looking as if it was a “World War II city” that everyone was trying to flee in fear after the typhoon winds ended Saturday.
“It was almost a stampede at the airport in Tacloban,” she said. “Everyone was trying to get on the plane. It’s really, really terrible.”
It was not until Sunday that authorities communicated with Leyte. The sisters said there was no power or phone service. They said they saw looting everywhere. Food and water are almost non-existent, they said.
“It’s all washed out ... including the hospitals and malls, by the strong winds and floods that came,” Maritess said in a quivering voice.
“The hardest thing is ... seeing you mother floating in the flood and you don’t know what to do. You just see there and the only thing is have to save yourself,” she said. “I could not save her because she drowned already, and it was not just water from the sea but mixed with dirty water — color black, like came from river and smell like canal.”
Regional police chief Elmer Soria said he was briefed by Leyte provincial Gov. Dominic Petilla late Saturday and told there were about 10,000 deaths on the island, mostly by drowning and from collapsed buildings. The governor’s figure was based on reports from village officials in areas where Typhoon Haiyan slammed Friday.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said that the death toll in the city “could go up to 10,000.” A mass burial was planned Sunday in Palo town near Tacloban.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said a massive rescue operation was underway. “We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured,” Roxas said after visiting Tacloban on Saturday.
The Pentagon directed the U.S. military’s Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies.
Reports trickled in from elsewhere on the island, and from neighboring islands, indicating hundreds, if not thousands more deaths, though it will be days before the full extent of the storm’s impact can be assessed.
On Samar Island, which is facing Tacloban, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said Sunday that 300 people were confirmed dead in Basey town and another 2,000 are missing.
He said that the storm surge caused sea waters to rise 20 feet when Typhoon Haiyan hit Friday, before crossing to Tacloban.
There are still other towns on Samar that have not been reached, he said, and appealed for food and water. Power was knocked out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
President Benigno Aquino III flew around Leyte by helicopter on Sunday and landed in Tacloban to get a firsthand look at the disaster. He said the government’s priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas and deliver relief and medical assistance to victims.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.
“I told him all systems are down,” Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”
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 were missing, he said by phone.
If the typhoon death toll is confirmed, it would be the deadliest natural catastrophe on record in the Philippines. The deadliest typhoon before Haiyan was Tropical Storm Thelma in November 1991, which killed around 5,100 people in the central Philippines. The deadliest disaster so far was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791 people.
As Haiyan heads west toward Vietnam, the Red Cross is at the forefront of an international effort to provide food, water, shelter and other relief to the hundreds of thousands of Philippines residents who have lost their homes and livelihood, said Richard Gordon, CEO of the Philippine Red Cross.
“This is a big, full-court press,” he said. “We’re pulling out all the stops to help.”
UNICEF’s supply division in Copenhagen was loading 60 metric tons of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday.
With widespread power outages, roads blocked, bridges down and debris strewn everywhere, getting life back to some semblance of normal in the region will take time.
“The Philippines are always resilient, and we’re going to get back up,” Gordon said.
Anna Lindenfors, Philippines director of Save the Children, said officials in the country were still trying to gather information about the damage. Communication lines to the hardest-hit areas had yet to be re-established, she said.
“With this magnitude, we know that the destruction is overwhelming,” said Emma Amores, who was waiting outside Villamor Airbase in Manila, where a C-130 was loading relief supplies and personnel heading to hard-hit Tacloban. “From the images we saw on TV, it’s highly likely our houses are gone. We just want to know that the family are all safe.”
Romil Elinsuv, who is in Manila for work training, worried about his wife and 4-year-old son, who are at their home in Palo, a town in the province of Leyte.
“I feel fear. I don’t know what the situation is there,” Elinsuv said. He said he spoke with his wife the day before. She assured him they were OK, but then the line went dead, and he’s been unable to reach her since.
Typhoon Haiyan hit Guiuan, on the Philippine island of Samar, at 4:40 a.m. local time Friday. Three hours before landfall, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center assessed Haiyan’s sustained winds at 195 mph, gusting to 235 mph, making it the fourth-strongest tropical cyclone in history.
Graciano Lopez, 65, of Midlothian, Va., spent much of Friday night and Saturday morning glued to his television, phone and Facebook account waiting for word from family members in the Philippines. A retired engineer, Lopez grew up in Quezon City just outside of Manila. Throughout his childhood, he lived through various typhoons, the damage they leave behind and the rebuilding process that often meant annually replacing roofs of homes.
But this weekend, Lopez knew Haiyan was not like any typhoon he had experienced. He took pains to warn family members in the Philippines to be ready for the worst. “I was worried,” he said. “I knew this was in a different league.”
Lopez’s relatives were spared the brunt of the storm and were left dealing with roofs that had been blown off and downed trees, he said.
“They are very thankful,” Lopez said. “They got ordinary storm damage which they get several times a year so they were all kind of ready for that.”
Preparations were well underway in Vietnam Saturday ahead of the storm, with nearly 500,000 having been evacuated from high-risk areas across the central region from Phu Yen to Quang Binh provinces, according to state-run local media.
Witnesses in Danang reported empty supermarket shelves by Friday as anxious locals rushed to stock up on supplies in anticipation of the deadly typhoon’s arrival.
The typhoon is expected to hit Vietnam as a Category 2 or 3 typhoon according to the Red Cross, which estimates 6.5 million people will be affected by the storm.
The storm has already claimed its first victims in Vietnam, with local media reporting two people dead and 30 more injured in Quang Nam province Friday as a result of accidents during storm preparations.
Contributing: Yamiche Alcindor, Doyle Rice and Katharine Lackey from McLean, Va.; Maresca reported from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Contributing: Associated Press