Philippine typhoon destroys entire towns

Residents walk beside a large ship that was washed ashore by strong waves caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city. Photo / AP
Residents walk beside a large ship that was washed ashore by strong waves caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city. Photo / AP

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A super typhoon that destroyed entire towns across the Philippines is believed to have killed more than 10,000 people, authorities say, which would make it the country's deadliest recorded natural disaster.

Meanwhile, a provincial official says another 300 people have been confirmed dead on Samar Island in the central Philippines.

Leo Dacaynos of Samar province's disaster office said Sunday that 300 people have been confirmed dead in Basey town and another 2000 are missing.

He said the storm surge caused sea waters to rise 6 metres when Typhoon Haiyan hit Friday.

There are still other towns on Samar that have not been reached.

The feared death toll from Super Typhoon Haiyan came as the United States pledged military help in the relief effort and as countless survivors across a huge swathe of the country remained without aid for a third day.

Ten thousand people were believed to have been killed in the worst-hit province on Leyte, regional police chief Elmer Soria told reporters in Tacloban, the devastated provincial capital.

"We had a meeting last night with the governor and, based on the government's estimates, initially there are 10,000 casualties (dead). About 70 to 80 per cent of the houses and structures along the typhoon's path were destroyed," Soria said.

The scenes in Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people, and other coastal towns were reminiscent of a tsunami aftermath, with concrete slabs the only part of many homes remaining, vehicles flipped over and power lines destroyed.

"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of a UN disaster assessment coordination team, in Tacloban.

"The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami," he said, referring to the 2004 disaster that claimed about 220,000 lives.

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Haiyan hit Leyte and the neighbouring island with maximum sustained winds of around 315km/h on Friday, and generated waves up to three metres high that surged deep inland.

However, while Leyte was believed to have been the worst hit, the carnage extended across a 600km stretch of islands through the central Philippines.

"We're still establishing command and control through logistics and communications," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

He said among the communities yet to be contacted was Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people on Samar island that was the first to be hit after Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean.

About 130 hundred kilometres to the west of Tacloban, the popular tourist islands of Malapascua appeared to be in ruins, according to aerial photographs, with people there unaccounted for so far.

"The coast guard commander cannot communicate with the area. They are cut off in communications and from power," regional civil defence director Minda Morante told AFP.

The Philippines endures a seemingly never-ending pattern of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters.

It is located along a typhoon belt and the so-called Ring of Fire, a vast Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

However, if the feared death toll of above 10,000 is correct, Haiyan would be the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the Philippines.

Until Haiyan, the deadliest disaster was in 1976, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the Moro Gulf on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, killing between 5000 and 8000 people.

In Washington, the Pentagon announced that US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had responded to a request from the Philippines for military aid.

"Secretary Hagel has directed US Pacific Command to support US government humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan," it said.

"The initial focus includes surface maritime search and rescue, medium-heavy helicopter lift support, airborne maritime search and rescue, fixed wing lift support and logistics enablers."

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon also pledged that UN humanitarian agencies would "respond rapidly to help people in need".

Ban is "deeply saddened by the extensive loss of life" and devastation caused by Haiyan, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in a statement.

New Zealand offers support

No Kiwis have been reported killed or injured by Typhoon Haiyan as New Zealand pledges $150,000 towards relief efforts in the storm-ravaged Philippines.

Authorities in the Philippines say the death toll from the massive typhoon, which flattened buildings and knocked out infrastructure, could be close to 10,000.

A spokesman for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said there were no reports that any of the 376 New Zealanders currently registered as being the Philippines had been killed or injured.

``All New Zealanders in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan are advised to follow any instructions issued by the local authorities and keep their family in New Zealand informed of their well-being,'' MFAT said

They were also advised to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on www.safetravel.govt.nz.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Government had contributed $150,000 to the Red Cross to support immediate relief efforts in the wake of the typhoon.

He said the contribution would help the Red Cross maintain emergency supply stocks and carry out impact assessments in affected areas.

``Typhoon Haiyan was one of the largest storms on record and has had a major impact on the Philippines - a country that has recently been hit by successive natural disasters,'' Mr McCully said.

``New Zealand will consider further support as the full extent of the damage becomes clear.''

The funding comes after the Government pledged $850,000 in aid to the Philippines, in response to last month's earthquake and flooding.

Of that, $500,000 will be delivered by the charity Unicef.

Unicef NZ executive director Dennis McKinlay said a rapid assessment over the next few days would be critical to understanding the full extent of the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan.

``This will determine the damage to infrastructure and to local communities, many of whom will have fled to other areas and be in need of urgent assistance,'' he said.

``As in any natural or man-made disaster, children are among those who suffer the most. We are deeply concerned about the number of children who could potentially have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan.''

Unicef said its resources in the Philippines were already stretched by the previous disasters, and it has called for urgent donations.

Oxfam has also deployed teams on the ground and was calling for donations to its disaster relief fund.

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