TACLOBAN, Philippines (CNN) — A day after Super Typhoon Haiyan roared into the Philippines, officials predicted that the death toll could reach 1,200 or more.
“We estimate 1,000 people were killed in Tacloban and 200 in Samar province,” Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said of two coastal areas where Haiyan hit first as it began its march Friday across the archipelago.
The Red Cross said it would have more precise numbers Sunday. But experts predicted that it will take days to get the full scope of the damage wrought by a typhoon described as one of the strongest to make landfall in recorded history.
“Probably the casualty figure will increase as we get more information from remote areas, which have been cut off from communications,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF’s Philippines representative.
The casualties from the storm, which affected 4.3 million people in 36 provinces, occurred despite preparations that included the evacuation of more than 800,000 people, he said.
Tacloban hardest hit
Tacloban suffered the greatest devastation, said Lt. Jim Aris Alago, information officer for Navy Central Command. “There are numbers of undetermined casualties found along the roads.”
Officials found more than 100 bodies scattered on the streets of the coastal city.
“We expect the greatest number of casualties there,” Alago said, adding that 100 body bags had been sent to the area. People were wading through waist-high water, and overturned vehicles, downed utility poles and trees were blocking roads and delaying the aid effort.
Mobile services were down, and officials were relying on radios.
Another 100 residents in this city of 220,000 residents were injured, said Capt. John Andrews, deputy director of the national Civil Aviation Authority.
Roofs and windows were blown off and out of many of the buildings left standing. Rescue crews were handing out ready-to-eat meals, clothing, blankets, medicine and water, Alago said.
But the speed of the storm — which was clocked at 41 mph — meant residents didn’t have to hunker down long. Many emerged Saturday from their homes and shelters and trekked through streets littered with debris to supermarkets, looking for water and food. Several bodies were found at a chapel; a woman wept over one.
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 Philippine National Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon.
“We really are having access problems,” he said.
The city’s airport was shut, 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.”
Tacloban is the largest city in the Eastern Visayas Islands. It was an important logistical base during World War II and served as a temporary capital of the Philippines.
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.
The typhoon first struck before dawn on Friday on the country’s eastern island of Samar, flooding streets and knocking out power and communications in most of Eastern Visayas region.
Powered by 195-mph winds and gusts up to 235 mph, it then struck near Tacloban and Dulag on the island of Leyte, flooding the coastal communities.
“It is like a tsunami has hit here,” CNN’s Paula Hancocks said from Tacloban.
Many islands hit
It continued its march, barreling into five other Philippine islands before its wind strength dropped Saturday to 130 mph and it lost its super typhoon designation.
The Red Cross had more than 700,000 people in evacuation centers, but some of those proved no match for the storm, the Red Cross’ Gordon said. “People died there as well.”
Meteorologists said it could regain super status as it headed Saturday toward Vietnam, where it was expected to strike Sunday morning around the cities of Da Nang and Hue.
Philippine military helicopters were taking surveys; it took relief workers from Manila up to 18 hours to reach the worst-hit isles.
Super Typhoon Haiyan packed a wallop on Philippine structures that was 3.5 times more forceful than the United States’ Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which directly or indirectly killed 1,833 people. At $108 billion, it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
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.
Defenseless against the storm’s might
One major concern was the typhoon’s impact on Bohol Island, where 350,000 people had been living in tents and temporary shelters since last month’s earthquake, said Joe Curry of Catholic Relief Services.
But he said he was concerned about other areas, too.
“There are a lot of rural areas, a lot of small islands that are affected,” Curry said. “We don’t know how they can protect themselves from a typhoon of this strength.”
Clarson Fruelda of Cebu City said residents were cleaning up dirt, leaves, coconuts and tree branches from their homes.
“The winds were the strongest that I felt in more than 20 years,” Fruelda said. “These past few weeks were really tough for my wife and I and probably for Cebuanos as well since it was just a few weeks ago when we were hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.”
About 125,000 people took refuge in evacuation centers, and hundreds of flights were canceled.
Haiyan may be the strongest tropical cyclone in recorded history, though meteorologists said it will take further analysis to establish whether it is a record.
By Andrew Stevens and Tom Watkins
CNN’s Paula Hancocks and Andrew Stevens reported from Tacloban and Faith Karimi and Tom Watkins wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Michael Martinez, Aliza Kassim, Jessica King and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.
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