CEBU, Philippines — Three days after one of the most powerful storms ever to buffet the Philippines, the scale of the devastation — and the desperation of the survivors — in the country’s central islands was slowly coming into view.
After initial thoughts that the Philippines may have escaped disaster from the giant storm, it became increasingly apparent Monday that the typhoon had devastated cities, towns, and fishing villages when it played a deadly form of hopscotch across the islands of the central Philippines on Friday. By some estimates, at least 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban alone.
Barreling across palm-fringed beaches and plowing into frail homes with a force that by some estimates approached that of a tornado, Typhoon Haiyan delivered a crippling blow to a huge area of the country’s midsection. Disorder and looting over the weekend compounded the destruction.
President Benigno S. Aquino III declared a “state of calamity” in provinces across the breadth of the Philippines, a step that releases emergency funds from national coffers.
Those coffers have been depleted this year by a series of other natural disasters, most notably an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 that also struck the middle of the country four weeks ago.
The first and most vocal city to cry for help over the weekend was Tacloban on Leyte Island, which was also one of the first places hit by the typhoon, called Yolanda in the Philippines. In many other communities along the storm’s track, virtually all communications were cut off.
The typhoon left Tacloban in ruins, as a storm surge as high as 13 feet overwhelmed its streets. Reports from the scene said that most of the houses in the city of 220,000 were damaged or destroyed. More than 300 bodies have already been recovered, said Tecson John S. Lim, the city administrator, adding that the toll could reach 10,000 in Tacloban.
Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for the website Weatherunderground.com, said that the storm surge appeared to have caused many of the deaths.
Surges are typical for Atlantic hurricanes, Masters said, but storms in the Philippines usually do most of their damage through flash flooding, because of the mountainous terrain.
This typhoon moved quickly, though, and did not drench any one area with downpours of rain for long, Masters said. Instead, the storm’s powerful winds pushed huge amounts of seawater onto the shore in low-lying areas, some of them 10 feet or less above sea level.
Aquino went to Tacloban on Sunday to meet victims of the storm and coordinate rescue and cleanup efforts. His defense secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, described a chaotic scene there.
“There is no power, no water, nothing,” Gazmin said. “People are desperate. They’re looting.”
The lack of clear information from official sources about the extent of the damage raised the possibility that other areas could have been hit just as badly as Tacloban, where rescue efforts were being concentrated.
News reports from Tacloban told of how officials were unable to get an accurate assessment of the fatalities because law enforcement and government personnel could not be reached after the The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the mayor of Tacloban, Alfred S. Romualdez, was found “holding on to his roof” by rescuers.
After plowing through the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan took a right turn over the South China Sea on Sunday, avoiding the central coast of Vietnam, where hundreds of thousands of people had been evacuated to emergency shelters. Instead, it made landfall early Monday much farther north, near the China border.
About 500,000 people were allowed to return to their homes on Sunday, according to state media in Vietnam.
Weakened to Category 1 strength, the typhoon came ashore near the port of Haiphong, the Hong Kong Observatory reported. It was expected to weaken further as it moved inland toward Nanning, China.
The extent of the damage across the Philippines and the rising death toll appeared to make the typhoon the worst storm in the country’s history.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the deadliest storm to hit the Philippines until now was Tropical Storm Thelma, which flooded the town of Ormoc, on Leyte Island, on Nov. 5, 1991, and killed more than 5,000 people.
Aid efforts in the Philippines were complicated by the magnitude of the devastation, as communications systems were shut down by the storm.
In addition, the Philippine National Red Cross said its relief efforts were being hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other supplies that were being sent from the southern port city of Davao to Tacloban on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.
International aid agencies and foreign governments are also sending emergency teams. At the request of the Philippine government, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the deployment of ships and aircraft to bring in emergency supplies and help in the search-and-rescue operations.
Approximately 90 American Marines and sailors based in Okinawa landed in the Philippines on Sunday, part of an advance team sent to assess the scope of the disaster and determine what the Pentagon might need to assist in relief work.
According to Colonel Brad Bartlet, a Marine spokesman, the team has asked for C-130 cargo airplanes, MV-22 Osprey helicopters, and other aircraft, and the Navy has sent two P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft. Orions are often used during natural disasters to patrol the seas looking for survivors stranded in ships and boats.