More than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of a Philippine city smashed by Super Typhoon Haiyan, authorities said Saturday, as soldiers raced to reach many other devastated communities.
Haiyan tore into the eastern islands of Leyte and Samar on Friday with sustained winds of around 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most intense ever to make landfall.
Most of the worst-hit towns were cut off from communications throughout Friday, with power and telephone networks destroyed, and the first reports that began to emerge after daybreak on Saturday painted a deeply ominous picture.
In Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, the city’s airport manager reported seeing more than 100 bodies littered around the facility, with at least 100 more people injured.
“According to the station manager the airport is completely ruined,” Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines deputy chief John Andrews told ABS-CBN television.
The military began flying C-130 planes full of relief supplies to Tacloban, which has a population of 220,000 people, on Saturday morning.
A journalist for local television network GMA also reported seeing about 20 bodies piled up in a church in Palo, a coastal town about 10 kilometres south of Tacloban.
Huge waves whipped up by Haiyan were believed to have been one of the main causes for the deaths in Tacloban and Palo, while the roofs of buildings were also ripped off.
The initial reports from Tacloban and Palo raised fears of mass casualties, with Haiyan having devastated many other communities across the central Philippines that remained cut off from communications.
“We have reports of collapsed buildings, houses flattened to the ground, storm surges and landslides,” Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told AFP, giving an assessment across the whole region.
“But we don’t know really, we can’t say how bad the damage is... hopefully today we can get a better picture as to the effects of the super typhoon.”
The government, military and Red Cross said one of their top priorities was trying to re-establish contact or reach communities in Leyte and Samar.
Fifteen thousand soldiers had been deployed to the disaster zones, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.
“We are flying sorties to bring relief goods, materials and communication equipment,” Zagala said.
He said helicopters were also flying rescuers into priority areas, while infantry units deployed across the affected areas were also proceeding there on foot or in military trucks.
The Red Cross’s Pang said nobody had yet made contact with Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people on Samar that was the first to be hit after Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean.
Pang also expressed concern for people in the province of Capiz, about 200 kilometres west of Tacloban, where she said most of the region’s infrastructure had been destroyed and many houses “flattened to the ground”.
At least three more people were killed on the far southwestern province of Palawan, ABS-CBN reported, citing a local disaster official.
The national disaster management council said its official death toll was just four, but admitted they had no idea as the extent of the damage.
An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, batter 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 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.