The Philippine Red Cross estimated that more than 1 000 people were killed in the coastal city of Tacloban and at least 200 in hard-hit Samar province when one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall slammed into the country.
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.
The death toll from Typhoon Haiyan is expected to rise sharply as rescue workers reach areas cut off by the fast-moving storm, whose circumference eclipsed the whole country and which, late on Saturday, was heading for Vietnam.
Bodies covered in plastic
Roads in the coastal city of Tacloban in the central Leyte province, one of the worst-hit areas, were either under water or blocked by fallen trees and power lines and debris from homes blown away by Haiyan.
Bodies covered in plastic were lying on the streets.
"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 Co-ordination Team sent to Tacloban.
"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris."
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, but a government official estimated at least 100 were killed and more than 100 wounded. – Reuters