When we previewed the initial "massive devastation" aftermath of typhoon Haiyan yesterday, when the casualties resulting from the strongest storm to ever make landfall were "only" 1200, we had a feelilng that the final tally would be far worse. And so it is: a day later, the incoming reports confirm that by the time the final death toll is calculated it will probably be one for the record books, because at last the dead had risen to a massive 10,000 and were increasing exponentially.
The latest tally comes from Reuters, according to which, "one of the most powerful storms ever recorded killed at least 10,000 people in the central Philippines, a senior police official said on Sunday, with huge waves sweeping away coastal villages and devastating one of the main cities in the region." "We had a meeting last night with the governor and the other officials. The governor said, based on their estimate, 10,000 died," Soria told Reuters. "The devastation is so big."
"From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami," said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who had been in Tacloban since before the typhoon struck the city. "I don't know how to describe what I saw. It's horrific."
Needless to say, Haiyan makes Sandy pale by comparison: 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path as it tore through Leyte province on Friday, said police chief superintendent Elmer Soria, before weakening and heading west for Vietnam.
"People are walking like zombies looking for food," said Jenny Chu, a medical student in Leyte. "It's like a movie." As rescue workers struggled to reach ravaged villages along the coast, where the death toll is as yet unknown, survivors foraged for food or searched for lost loved ones.
Witnesses and officials described chaotic scenes in Leyte's capital, Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 about 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila which bore the brunt, with hundreds of bodies piled along roads and pinned under wrecked houses.
The city lies in a cove where the seawater narrows, making it susceptible to storm surges.
The city and nearby villages as far as one kilometer (just over half a mile) from shore were flooded, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes.
And just as in the case of Sandy, the biggest threat from the storm turned out to be not the winds but the water surge which gave the storm a tsunami-like feel and flooded all low-lying territories.
Most of the deaths appear to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris that many said resembled a tsunami, leveling houses and drowning hundreds of people in one of the worst disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation.
About 300 people died in neighboring Samar province, where Haiyan first hit land on Friday as a category 5 typhoon, with 2,000 missing, said a provincial disaster agency official.
Nearly 480,000 people were displaced and 4.5 million "affected" by the typhoon in 36 provinces, the national disaster agency said, as relief agencies called for food, water, medicines and tarpaulins for the homeless.
International aid agencies said relief efforts in the Philippines were stretched thin after a 7.2 magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by a conflict with Muslim rebels in southern Zamboanga province.
And when disaster strikes poor nations, looting is sure to follow, as does martial law.
Looters rampaged through several stores in Tacloban, witnesses said, taking whatever they could find as rescuers' efforts to deliver food and water were hampered by severed roads and communications. A TV station said ATM machines were broken open.\
Mobs attacked trucks loaded with food, tents and water on Tanauan bridge in Leyte, said Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon. "These are mobsters operating out of there."
President Benigno Aquino said the government had deployed 300 soldiers and police to restore order and that he was considering introducing martial law or a state of emergency in Tacloban to ensure security. "Tonight, a column of armored vehicles will be arriving in Tacloban to show the government's resolve and to stop this looting," he said.
Aquino has shown exasperation at conflicting reports on damage and deaths and one TV network quoted him as telling the head of the disaster agency that he was running out of patience.
"How can you beat that typhoon?" said defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, when asked whether the government had been ill-prepared. "It's the strongest on Earth. We've done everything we can, we had lots of preparation. It's a lesson for us."
Many tourists were stranded. "Seawater reached the second floor of the hotel," said Nancy Chang, who was on a business trip from China in Tacloban City and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation at the airport.
"It's like the end of the world."
Six people were killed and dozens wounded during heavy winds and storms in central Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast, state media reported, even though it had weakened substantially since hitting the Philippines.
It is truly stunning just how brittle the stability of society becomes once the "just in time" amentites everyone takes for granted, disappear without a trace.
Worst of all, the Philippines could be just the beginning: Vietnam is next, as is the very densely populated region of southern China. "Vietnam authorities have moved 883,000 people in 11 central provinces to safe zones, according to the government's website."
Raw video of the storm via Bloomberg:
Finally, some additional photos of the aftermath.