Late Friday, a cyclone 3.5 times more powerful than Hurricane Katrina called Super Typhoon Haiyan pummeled the Philippines, causing officials to predict a death toll that could reach over 1,200. The hurricane, which the director of meteorology at Weather Underground has called "the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history," has affected over four million people in 36 provinces, in spite of evacuations and preparations.
The typhoon, which hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday, caused five-yard-high storm surges that submerged coastal towns, battering homes, streets and trees. According to the Philippine National Red Cross, the group received reports Saturday which suggested that over 1,000 people had died in the region of Tacloban, and about 200 more had been killed in the neighboring Samar province.
"We estimate 1,000 people were killed in Tacloban and 200 in Samar province," said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, adding: "It is only an estimate from the field, not validated."
The chairman of the Philippine Red Cross said that while they had succeeded in getting an assessment team to Tacloban, they hadn't been able to get its key group of aid workers or any equipment into to the city.
"We really are having access problems," he said. The city's airport is currently closed down, and, to make matters worse, the routes between the airport and the central city are completely blocked — it will be at least another three days or so until a land route opens up. "It really is an awful, awful situation," he added.
"The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami," echoed the head of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination team, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa. "This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumble weeds, and the streets are strewn with debris."
The cyclone is estimated to have affected 4.3 million people in 36 provinces, in spite of over 800,000 people having been evacuated in preparation. By Saturday, 330,000 people were still holed up in over 1,000 evacuation centers, and the government's official death toll was 138 dead, 14 wounded and four missing.
"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.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that America "stands ready to help," adding: "Having so recently had my own visit to the Philippines prevented by another powerful storm, I know that these horrific acts of nature are a burden that you have wrestled with and courageously surmounted before. Your spirit is strong."
It's been predicted by meteorologists that, by Monday morning, Haiyan will have turned into a more manageable topical storm, at which point it'll make landfall in northern Vietnam. By Monday night, it's likely to create roughly 12 inches of rain.