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Updated: Sat, 09 Nov 2013 10:05:05 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Philippine typhoon death toll could top 1,200



A Philippine flag flutters atop the control tower of a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, in the central Philippines. Haiyan is possibly the strongest typhoon ever to hit land. Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

A Philippine flag flutters atop the control tower of a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, in the central Philippines. Haiyan is possibly the strongest typhoon ever to hit land. Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

The Philippine Red Cross is estimating that more than 1,200 people were killed in the coastal city of Tacloban and in Samar province when one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall slammed into the country, although the deaths have not yet been confirmed by the government.

Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross, said the numbers came from preliminary reports by Red Cross teams in Tacloban and Samar, among the most devastated areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan on Friday.

"An estimated more than 1,000 bodies were seen floating in Tacloban as reported by our Red Cross teams," she told Reuters. "In Samar, about 200 deaths. Validation is ongoing."

She said she expected a more exact number to emerge after a more precise counting of bodies on the ground in those regions.

Freelance reporter Dean Bernardo told CBC News that the Red Cross' estimate reflects raw data collected on the ground and includes people who may not be dead, but who are missing. The Philippine government's death toll, which is in the hundreds, is more conservative because it is following a process to confirm reported deaths.

Bernardo added that the Red Cross' estimate is possible because teams from the organization have visited municipal regions that have not yet been covered by the government.

Regions cut off

Earlier Saturday, rescuers in the central Philippines counted at least 100 dead and many more injured, a day after one of the most powerful typhoons on record ripped through the region, wiping away buildings and leveling seaside homes in massive storm surges, then headed for Vietnam.

With communications and roads still cut off, Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said he had received "reliable information" by radio from his staff that more than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of Tacloban on hardest-hit Leyte Island. It was one of five islands where Typhoon Haiyan slammed Friday.

Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said that the casualty figure "probably will increase," after viewing aerial photographs of the widespread devastation caused by the typhoon.

Civil aviation authorities in Tacloban, about 580 kilometres southeast of Manila, reported that the seaside airport terminal was "ruined" by storm surges, Andrews said.

Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, a senior aide to President Benigno Aquino III, said that the number of casualties could not be immediately determined, but that the figure was "probably in that range" given by Andrews. Government troops were helping recover bodies, he said.

Aquino said Saturday that one of the country's main priorities is to restore power and communications to the affected areas, Bernardo told CBC News from Manila.

He said the typhoon had a major impact on power and telecommunications systems, which was hampering government and civilian rescue operations.

'Significant damage'

U.S. Marine Col. Mike Wylie, who surveyed the damage in Tacloban prior to possible American assistance, said that the damage to the runway was significant. Military planes were still able to land with relief aid.

"The storm surge came in fairly high and there is significant structural damage and trees blown over," he told the AP. Wylie is a member of the U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance Group based in Manila.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that America stood ready to help.

Joseph de la Cruz, who hitched a ride on a military plane from Tacloban back to Manila, said he had counted at least 15 bodies.

"A lot of the dead were scattered," he said, adding that he walked for about eight hours to reach the Tacloban airport.

The Philippine television station GMA reported its news team saw 11 bodies, including that of a child, washed ashore Friday and 20 more bodies at a pier in Tacloban hours after the typhoon ripped through the coastal city.

At least 20 more bodies were taken to a church in nearby Palo town that was used as an evacuation center but had to be abandoned when its roofs were blown away, the TV network reported. TV images showed howling winds peeling off tin roof sheets during heavy rain.

Ferocious winds felled large branches and snapped coconut trees. A man was shown carrying the body of his six-year-old daughter who drowned, and another image showed vehicles piled up in debris.

Nearly 800,000 people were forced to flee their homes and damage was believed to be extensive. About 4 million people were affected by the typhoon, the national disaster agency said.

Relief workers said they were struggling to find ways to deliver food and other supplies, with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees.

In western Palawan province, disaster officials said three fishermen died in Coron township after jumping off their anchored boat which was battered by big waves. One fisherman survived.

Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 235 km/h with gusts of 275 km/h when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., nearly in the top category, a 5.

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same thing. They are just called different names in different parts of the world.

Typhoon headed for Vietnam

The typhoon's sustained winds weakened Saturday to 163km/h with stronger gusts as it blew farther away from the Philippines toward Vietnam. 

Vietnamese authorities in four central provinces began evacuating more than 500,000 people from high risk areas to government buildings, schools and other concrete homes able to withstand strong winds.

"The evacuation is being conducted with urgency and must be completed before 5 p.m.," disaster official Nguyen Thi Yen Linh by telephone from central Danang City, where some 76,000 are being moved to safety.

Hundreds of thousands of others were being taken to shelters in the provinces of Quang Ngai, Quang Nam and Thua Thien Hue. Schools were closed and two deputy prime ministers were sent to the region to direct the preparations.

Haiyan was forecast to hit central Vietnam's coast on Sunday afternoon, making its way to the northern part of the country before likely weakening to a tropical storm.

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