The Philippines Red Cross said it has received reports of 1,200 deaths in two areas devastated by typhoon Haiyan.
The agency said that at least 1,000 had been killed in Tacloban and 200 in Samar province. The typhoon has passed over the Philippines and is expected to hit Vietnam later today. Communication and transports links have been disrupted by the storm making it difficult to assess damage and offer assistance.
Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said the numbers came from preliminary reports by Red Cross teams in Tacloban and Samar, among the most devastated areas hit by typhoon Haiyan on Friday.
"An estimated more than 1,000 bodies were seen floating in Tacloban as reported by our Red Cross teams," she told Reuters. "In Samar, about 200 deaths. Validation is ongoing."
The death toll from typhoon Haiyan is expected to rise sharply as rescue workers reach areas cut off by the fast-moving storm, whose circumference eclipsed the whole country and which late on Saturday was heading for Vietnam.
Roads in the coastal city of Tacloban in the central Leyte province, one of the worst-hit areas, were either underwater or blocked by fallen trees and power lines, and debris from homes blown away by Haiyan. Bodies covered in plastic sheeting were lying on the streets.
"The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the UN disaster ssessment co-ordination team sent to Tacloban. "This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris."
The category 5 "super typhoon" weakened to a category 4 on Saturday, though forecasters said it could strengthen again over the South China Sea, en route to Vietnam.
Authorities in 15 provinces in Vietnam have started to call back boats and prepare for possible landslides. Nearly 300,000 people were moved to safer areas in two provinces alone – Da Nang and Quang Nam – according to the government's website.
Aaron Aspi, of World Vision, described the typhoon in a telephone interview with the Guardian. He travelled to the island of Bohol from Manilla to help people recover from an earthquake last month. The termor killed around 200 people and left thousands homeless.
He said many of the homeless people were releuctant to shelter in buildings from the typhoon because they were so scared of the continuing aftershocks from the earthquake. When the wind blew away their tents they rushed to already crowdeed evacuation centres.
"We get around 25 cyclones per year but I have never seen winds like this even as a humanitarian worker. If I did not hang on to railings when I walked between buildings, I would have been blown away," he said.
In the city of Tagbilaran, Aspi said there was no electricity and flooding in coastal areas. "It is pitch black and all I can see is flickers of light. Many trees, street lamps and electricty poles have been knocked down," he said.
Aspi said that there no reports of casualties yet but Bohol was expecting its next typhoon to hit on Wednesday. The Filippino national disaster agency has yet to confirm casualty figures in Tacloban but broken power poles, trees, bent tin roofs and splintered houses littered the streets of the city about 360 miles south-east of Manila. The airport was destroyed as seawaters swept through the city.
"Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing," said Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency.
Local television network ABS-CBN showed images of looting in one of the city's biggest malls, with residents carting away everything from appliances to suitcases and grocery items. About a million people took shelter in 37 provinces after President Benigno Aquino appealed to those in the typhoon's path to leave vulnerable areas.
Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns in southern Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage of more than £60m.
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
Original headline: Typhoon Haiyan death toll in Philippines estimated at 1,200
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