'Worse than hell' in typhoon-ravaged Philippines

'Worse than hell' in typhoon-ravaged Philippines
CNN
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POSTED: Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 7:00pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 10:17am

Typhoon Haiyan plowed into northeastern Vietnam early Monday, packing powerful winds and forcing thousands to evacuate.

While people in Vietnam took shelter, Filipinos grappled with devastation on a scale they have never seen before.

No electricity. No food. No water. Houses and buildings leveled. Bodies scattered on the streets. Hospitals overrun with patients. Medical supplies running out.

And a death toll that could soar.

The Philippine Red Cross estimated at least 1,200 people were killed by Haiyan, but that number could change as officials make their way to remote, nearly inaccessible places pummeled by the storm.

The town of Tacloban, in Leyte province, is a city on edge. It was one of the hardest-hit places.

Tacloban's mayor said reports that 10,000 people may have died in Leyte province were quote "entirely possible."

"People here were convinced that it looked like a tsunami," Alfred Romualdez told CNN.

"I have not spoken to anyone who has not lost someone, a relative close to them. We are looking for as many as we can," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is fairly realistic to estimate that 10,000 people may have died nationally, because many areas are unreachable by organizations.

"In the western islands of Philippines, for instance, no one can evaluate the casualties," said ICRC spokesman David Pierre Marquet.

"It could effectively be a number close to 10,000," Marquet told CNN. "But the notion that 10,000 people are dead in Tacloban alone is not possible."

'This is really, really like bad'

A steady stream of typhoon victims kept arriving at Tacloban airport, looking for food, water and escape.

Magina Fernandez was among them. She had lost her home and business. And she was desperate to leave on the next military plane.

She made an anguished plea for help.

"Get international help to come here now -- not tomorrow, now," she said. "This is really, really like bad, bad, worse than hell, worse than hell."

She directed some of her anger at Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, who on Sunday toured some of the areas hit hardest by the typhoon, including Tacloban.

Many of the people in the city, population 200,000, are angry at the authorities' slow response to the disaster.

Aquino told CNN's Paula Hancocks that there was a breakdown, especially at the local government level.

"They are necessary first responders, and too many of them were also affected and did not report for work," he explained, saying that contributed to the slow delivery.

Aquino said the government will coordinate with the local units and put more people to work.

In Tacloban, 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."

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.

Children among the most affected victims

The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are ramping up relief efforts. The U.N. estimates that 9.5 million people have been affected by the typhoon, with some 620,000 displaced from their homes.

As the full impact of the typhoon is assessed, children are expected to be among the most affected.

Some 1.7 million children are believed to be living in the areas in the typhoon's path, according to UNICEF.

"UNICEF's first priorities are focused on life-saving interventions -- getting essential medicines, nutrition supplies, safe water and hygiene supplies to children and families," said UNICEF's representative in the Philippines, Tomoo Hozumi, in a statement.

"This is not the first natural disaster to strike the Philippines recently, following the earthquake in Bohol three weeks ago, so we know how vital it is to reach children quickly."

Aid groups struggle to reach those suffering

The UN's World Food Programme is setting up logistic pipelines to transport food and other relief items.

"The main challenges right now are related to logistics," said WFP representative Praveen Agrawal, who returned to Manila from the affected areas on Sunday. "Roads are blocked, airports are destroyed."

WFP 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.

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.

Typhoon makes landfall in Vietnam

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

Haiyan made landfall around 4 a.m. Monday (4 p.m. Sunday ET) with sustained winds of 120 kph (75 mph) and gusts of 150 kph (93 mph).

The storm had weakened by the time it hit Vietnam. But it's still expected to cause heavy rain and flooding in Hanoi, the Red Cross said. Forecasters predicted 20 to 30 centimeters (8 to 12 inches) of rain for parts of northern Vietnam near the border with China by Monday night.

Tropical cyclones with sustained surface winds of 74 mph or more are known as typhoons when they form west of the international date line. East of the line, they're known as hurricanes.

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 Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States 2005.

It wasn't the storm's 250-kph (155-mph) gusts that caused most of the damage -- it was a mammoth storm surge that reached up to 5 meters (16 feet) high.

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

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