Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from its U.S. and European allies.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the military’s Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso sent Mr. Aquino a message saying, “We stand ready to contribute with urgent relief and assistance if so required in this hour of need.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences and said U.N. humanitarian agencies were working closely with the Philippine government to respond quickly with emergency assistance, according to a statement.
The Philippines annually is buffeted by tropical storms and typhoons, which are called hurricanes and cyclones elsewhere on the planet. The nation is positioned alongside the warm South Pacific where typhoons are spawned. Many rake the islands with fierce winds and powerful waves each year, and the archipelago’s exposed eastern seaboard often bears the brunt.
Even by the standards of the Philippines, however, Haiyan is a catastrophe of epic proportions and has shocked the impoverished and densely populated nation of 96 million people. Its winds were among the strongest ever recorded, and it appears to have killed many more people than the previous deadliest Philippine storm, Thelma, which killed around 5,100 people in the central Philippines in 1991.The deadliest disaster on record was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791.
Haiyan’s winds were so strong that Tacloban residents who sought shelter at a local school tied down the building’s roof, but it was ripped off anyway and the school collapsed, City Administrator Tecson Lim said. It wasn’t clear how many died there.
The city’s two largest malls and groceries were looted and gasoline stations destroyed by the typhoon. Police were deployed to guard a fuel depot to prevent the theft of fuel. Two hundred additional police officers came to Tacloban on Sunday from elsewhere in the country to help restore law and order.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Mr. Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.
“I told him all systems are down,” Mr. Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”
Tacloban, in the east-central Philippines, is near the Red Beach on Leyte Island where U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur waded ashore in 1944 during the World War II and fulfilled his famous pledge: “I shall return.”
It was the first city liberated from the Japanese by U.S. and Filipino forces and served as the Philippines’ temporary capital for several months. It is also the hometown of former Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos, whose nephew, Alfred Romualdez, is the city’s mayor.
One Tacloban resident said he and others took refuge inside a parked Jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a surging wall of water.
“The water was as high as a coconut tree,” said 44-year-old Sandy Torotoro, a bicycle taxi driver who lives near the airport with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. “I got out of the Jeep, and I was swept away by the rampaging water with logs, trees and our house, which was ripped off from its mooring.
“When we were being swept by the water, many people were floating and raising their hands and yelling for help. But what can we do? We also needed to be helped,” Mr. Torotoro said.
In Mr. Torotoro’s village, bodies could be seen lying along the muddy main road as residents who had lost their homes huddled with the few possessions they had managed to save. The road was lined with trees that had fallen to the ground.