TACLOBAN, PhilippinesA weakened Typhoon Haiyan headed for Vietnam after as possibly the deadliest natural disaster on record there.
As many as 10,000 people are believed dead in one Philippine city alone after the stormthat washed away homes and schools. Corpses hung from tree branches and were scattered along sidewalks and among flattened buildings, while looters raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water.
Vietnamese officials have relocated as many as 800,000 in preparation for the storm.
Philippine officials projected the death toll could climb even higher when emergency crews reach areas cut off by flooding and landslides. Even in the disaster-prone Philippines, which regularly contends with earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical cyclones, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.
Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippine archipelago on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands before exiting into the South China Sea, packing winds of 147 miles per hour that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge that caused sea waters to rise 20 feet.
It wasn't until Sunday that the scale of the devastation became clear, with local officials on hardest-hit Leyte Island saying that there may be 10,000 dead in the provincial capital of Tacloban alone. Reports also trickled in from elsewhere on the island, and from neighboring islands, indicating hundreds, if not thousands more deaths, though it will be days before the full extent of the storm's impact can be assessed.
"On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street," said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila. "They were covered with just anything - tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboards." She said she passed "well over 100" dead bodies along the way.
In the storm's aftermath, people wept while retrieving the bodies of loved ones from inside buildings. On a street littered with fallen trees, roofing material and other wreckage, all that was left of one large building were the skeletal remains of its rafters.
The airport in Tacloban, about 360 miles southeast of Manila, was a muddy wasteland of debris, with crumpled tin roofs and overturned cars. The airport tower's glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were flying in and out as relief operations got underway. Residential homes lining the road into Tacloban city were all blown or washed away.
"All systems, all vestiges of modern living - communications, power, water - all are down," Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said after visiting Tacloban on Saturday. "There is no way to communicate with the people."
Haiyan raced across the eastern and central Philippines, inflicting serious damage to at least six of the archipelago's more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, neighboring Samar Island, and the northern part of Cebu appearing to take the hardest hit. It weakened as it crossed the South China Sea before approaching northern Vietnam. It was forecast to hit land Monday morning.
On Leyte, regional police chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 deaths there, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most of the deaths were in Tacloban, a city of about 200,000 that is the biggest on Leyte Island. A mass burial was planned for Sunday in a nearby town.
On Samar, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, while some towns have yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water and said power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Reports from the other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.
The massive casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
President Benigno Aquino III flew around Leyte by helicopter on Sunday and landed in Tacloban to get a firsthand look at the disaster. He said the government's priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas and deliver relief and medical assistance to victims.
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 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 is annually 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.