Saturday, November 9, 2013

Philippines: Strongest Typhoons Ever to Make Landfall Kills 1,200, According to Red Cross

According to Reuters, one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall devastated the central Philippines, killing more than 1,000 people in one city alone and 200 in another province, the Red Cross estimated on Saturday (November 9), as reports of high casualties began to emerge.

A day after Typhoon Haiyan churned through the Philippine archipelago in a straight line from east to west, rescue teams struggled to reach far-flung regions, hampered by washed out roads, many choked with debris and fallen trees.

The death toll is expected to rise sharply from the fast-moving storm, whose circumference eclipsed countrywide and which late on Saturday was heading for Vietnam.

Among the hardest hit was coastal Tacloban in central Leyte province, where preliminary estimates suggest more than 1,000 people were killed, said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, as water surges rushed through the city.

COMMENT: "The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the UN Disaster Assessment Coordination Team sent to Tacloban, referring to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.

The category 5 "super typhoon" weakened to a category 4 on Saturday, though forecasters said it could strengthen again over the South China Sea en-route to Vietnam.

Authorities in 15 provinces in Vietnam have started to call back boats and prepare for possible landslides. Nearly 300,000 people were moved to safer areas in two provinces alone, Da Nang and Quang Nam, according to the government's website.

The Philippines has yet to restore communications with officials in Tacloban, a city of about 220,000. A government official estimated at least 100 were killed and more than 100 wounded, but conceded the death toll would likely rise sharply.

The airport was nearly destroyed as raging seawaters swept through the city, shattering the glass of the airport tower, leveling the terminal and overturning nearby vehicles.

Local television network ABS-CBN showed images of looting in one of the city's biggest malls, with residents carting away everything from appliances to suitcases and grocery items.

COMMENT: Across the country, about a million people took shelter in 37 provinces after President Benigno Aquino appealed to those in the typhoon's path to leave vulnerable areas.

Ferry services and airports in the central Philippines remained closed, hampering aid deliveries to Tacloban, although the military said three C-130 transport planes managed to land at its airport on Saturday.

By Saturday afternoon, the typhoon was hovering 765 kilometers west of San José in southwestern Occidental Mindoro province, packing winds of a maximum 185 kph, with gusts of up to 220 kph.

Haiyan was the second category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year after Typhoon Usagi in September. An average of 20 typhoons strike every year, and Haiyan was the 24th so far this year.

Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns in southern Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage of more than $1 billion.

Foreign travelers destined for the Philippines in coming days should monitor real-time weather channels to determine if electricity, commerce and transportation are functional before departing for Manila and other major airports.