Philippines reels from catastrophic damage as Typhoon Haiyan heads to Vietnam

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TACLOBAN, Philippines (CNN) — After laying waste to huge swaths of the Philippines, flattening villages and washing bodies into the water, Typhoon Haiyan is set to bring more devastation to Vietnam.

While the massive storm barreled across the South China Sea on Sunday, many Filipinos grappled with devastation like they’ve never seen before.

Entire houses leveled to pieces. More than 100 bodies scattered on the streets of one city. Thousands more residents stranded, grieving and hungry.

The Philippine Red Cross estimated at least 1,200 people were killed by Haiyan. Sharee Tan, the governor of Samar province, reported 370 dead and 2,000 missing in her province alone.

But the full death toll could be significantly higher as officials make their way to remote, nearly inaccessible places pummeled by the cyclone.

Tacloban city Mayor Alfred Romualdez told CNN it is “entirely possible” that 10,000 people may have died in the storm in Leyte province. His statement came after a top provincial police official, Elmer Soria, said local estimates suggest as many as 10,000 are feared dead in Leyte, according to AFP.

Complicating the search efforts is the lack of electricity in many parts of the storm’s path.

The northern part of Bogo, in the central Philippines, suffered a blackout Sunday, and authorities said it will take months to restore power.

Devastation leads to desperation

It wasn’t the storm’s 250-kph gusts that caused most of the damage — it was a mammoth storm surge that reached up to 5 meters (16 feet) high.

Nearly half a million people were forced out of their homes, and now thousands have no home to return to, the National Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

In Tacloban, population 200,000, the increasingly desperate search for food and water has led to looting. National police and the military sent reinforcements to the city Sunday to prevent such thefts. News video showed people breaking into grocery stores and cash machines in the city, where there had been little evidence of authority since midday Friday.

Another desperate scene played out in the city’s only functioning hospital. Doctors couldn’t admit any more wounded victims — there wasn’t enough room. Some of the injured lay in the hospital’s cramped hallways seeking treatment.

“We haven’t anything left to help people with,” one of the doctors said. “We have to get supplies in immediately.”

Aid groups struggle to reach those suffering

The Philippine Red Cross succeeded in getting its assessment team in to Tacloban, but had not managed to get its main team of aid workers and equipment to the city, said its chairman, Richard Gordon.

“We really are having access problems,” he said.

The city’s airport was shut to commercial flights, and it would be three days before a land route was open, so organizers were considering chartering a boat for the 1½-to-2-day trip, he said. “It really is an awful, awful situation.”

World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said the U.N. group was gearing up its global resources to send enough food to feed 120,000 people.

“These high-energy biscuits will keep them alive,” she said.

She noted that much of the country’s infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports, ports — may have been destroyed or damaged and that the government could use help with logistics.

Most of Cebu province couldn’t be contacted by landlines, cell phones or radio, Dennis Chiong, operations officer for the province’s disaster risk and emergency management, said Saturday.

One inaccessible town, Daanbantayan, has more than 3,000 residents who “badly need food, water and shelter because most of the houses there are damaged due to the storm,” Chiong said.

In the town of Santa Fe in Cebu province, officials could not determine the number of fatalities because roads were washed out and phone services down.

Luescher pleaded for financial support from the international community and directed those wishing to donate to wfp.org/typhoon.

“Those are families like you and me, and they just need our help right now,” she said.

Catastrophic destruction

The destruction across the islands was catastrophic and widespread. For a time, storm clouds covered the entire Philippines, stretching 1,120 miles — the distance between Florida and Canada — and tropical storm-force winds covered an area the size of Germany.

Veteran storm chaser James Reynolds said Haiyan was “without a doubt the most catastrophic event I’ve witnessed before my eyes.”

“During the height of the storm, the scream of the wind was deafening,” said Reynolds, who hunkered down in a hotel made of concrete.

“We could hear just thunderous crashes of debris flying through the air. At some points, you could feel the whole hotel, which was made of solid concrete, shaking.”

Vietnam braces for hit

The massive losses in the Philippines have put much of Vietnam on edge. The Vietnam Red Cross said it has helped authorities evacuate 100,000 people, including elderly residents and orphans, as the typhoon neared.

Midday Sunday, Haiyan was plowing through the South China Sea with sustained winds of 160 kph (100 mph) and gusts of 195 kph (120 mph). It was expected to slam into Vietnam by Monday morning.

By that time, the typhoon could weaken to a tropical storm. But it’s still expected to cause heavy rain and flooding in Hanoi, the Red Cross said. Forecasters predicted up to 30 centimeters (12 inches of rain) for parts of northern Vietnam near the border with China by Monday night.

With the latest projected storm path, designated disaster area could grow from nine provinces to 15, the Vietnam Red Cross said.

An enormous blow

Haiyan may be the strongest tropical cyclone in recorded history, but meteorologists said it will take further analysis to confirm whether it set a record.

The typhoon was 3.5 times more forceful than the United States’ Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But Haiyan’s wrath has caused much more than tremendous loss of life and epic destruction — it’s also ruined the livelihoods of many survivors.

“This disaster on such a scale will probably have us working for the next year,” said Sandra Bulling, international communications officer for the aid agency CARE. “Fishermen have lost their boats. Crops are devastated. This is really the basic income of many people.”

Andrew Stevens reported from Tacloban; Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Paula Hancocks, Kristie Lu Stout, Melissa Le Fevre, Aliza Kassim, Jessica King, Judy Kwon, Tom Watkins, David Simpson, Elwyn Lopez, Michael Martinez and Yousuf Basil also contributed to this report.