The Philippine Red Cross estimates that 1,200 people were killed in the Southeast Asian archipelago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which lashed the center of the country with maximum sustained winds greater than 240 kph (150 mph), local television reported Saturday.
The damage caused by Haiyan, which moved quickly over the Philippines from east to west after making landfall Friday morning in the province of Eastern Samar, was reportedly “unimaginable” in the eastern coastal city of Tacloban, the ABS-CBN station said on its Web site.
After the city was cut off for several hours, the first images of the destruction began to be released Saturday: homes completely destroyed, roads impassible due to numerous downed street lamps and trees completely stripped of their leaves.
“The devastation is total. If you’ve been to Tacloban before, you wouldn’t even recognize the city now,” army Lt. Jim Alagao told the local PNA news agency.
Besides the wind damage, a strong storm surge caused flooding in the city.
Despite the Red Cross’ estimates, the official death toll reported by the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council stands at at 138, although spokesman Reynaldo Balido said the number of casualities is expected to rise in the coming hours as reports come in from devastated areas.
The Social Welfare and Development Ministry, for its part, said more than 487,000 people were being housed at 2,467 shelters.
Meteorologists had warned prior to the arrival of Haiyan that it could be even more devastating than Typhoon Bopha, which left nearly a thousand dead in late 2012.
After pummeling the central and southern Philippines, Haiyan is now churning in the South China Sea and headed for Vietnam, where authorities have begun to evacuate some 100,000 people.
The Philippines’ meteorological service, known as Pagasa, said Saturday that four more strong storms were expected to hit the country before year’s end.