Massive Philippine typhoon leaves over 100 dead

AFP-JIJI, AP

One of the strongest storms on record slammed into the central Philippines, killing more than 100 people whose bodies lay in the streets of one of the hardest-hit cities, an official said Saturday.

Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said more than 100 others were injured in the city of Tacloban on Leyte Island, where Typhoon Haiyan hit Friday.

With power and most communications knocked out a day after the typhoon ravaged the central region, Andrew said that the information about the deaths was relayed to him by his staff in Tacloban.

“The information is reliable,” he said.

Thousands of Philippine soldiers raced Saturday to reach isolated communities and nearly 750,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Damage from the storm — one of the strongest typhoons on record — was believed to be extensive.

Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 235 kph with gusts of 275 kph when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., nearly in the top category, a 5.

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same thing. They are just called different names in different parts of the world.

Because of cut-off communications in the Philippines, it was impossible to know the full extent of casualties and damage. Officially, four people were listed as dead as of Saturday morning, before the latest information from Tacloban came in.

Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado said the typhoon ripped roofs off houses and triggered landslides that blocked roads.

The dense clouds and heavy rains made the day seem almost as dark as night, he said.

“When you’re faced with such a scenario, you can only pray, and pray and pray,” Mercado said by telephone, adding that mayors in the province had not called in to report any major damage.

“I hope that means they were spared and not the other way around,” he said. “My worst fear is there will be massive loss of lives and property.”

Eduardo del Rosario, head of the disaster response agency, said the speed at which the typhoon sliced through the central islands — 40 kph — helped prevent its 600-km band of rain clouds from dumping enough of their load to overflow waterways. Flooding from heavy rains is often the main cause of deaths from typhoons.

“It has helped that the typhoon blew very fast in terms of preventing lots of casualties,” regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said. He said the massive evacuation of villagers before the storm also saved many lives.

An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, batter the Philippines each year.

The developing country is particularly vulnerable because it is often the first major landmass for the storms after they build over the Pacific Ocean.

The Philippines suffered the world’s strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.