The Philippines are grappling with the aftermath of what’s being called one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall. The weather system unleashed tropical force winds of 200 mph from storm clouds that stretched 1,120 miles across the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines (or roughly the distance between Florida and Canada). Overall, 4.3 million people were affected in 36 provinces. Overnight, the storm was downgraded from a “super typhoon,” to just a regular typhoon. Clarson Fruelda, a resident of nearby Cebu City, said residents were cleaning up dirt, leaves, coconuts, and tree branches from their homes. “The winds were the strongest that I felt in more than 20 years,” he told CNN.
It’s estimated that 1,200 people have been killed between the coastal city of Tacloban and the Samar province by the storm (known locally as Yolanda), according to preliminary reports from Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross. National disaster agency spokesman Major Reynaldo Balido told the Associated Press that only 138 deaths have been confirmed so far, but Interior Secretary Max Roxas added it was too early to know how many people had died after arriving on Leyte Island on Saturday, where 100 body bags had already been sent. Local authorities say it typically takes two to three days for full reports to reach rescue agencies. Additionally, NBC News reports that nearly 800,000 people have been evacuated, with 330,000 staying in 1,223 evacuation centers.
Lieutenant Jim Aris Alago, an information officer for Navy Central Command, told the AP they expect the greatest number of casualties in Tacloban where “the rescue operation is ongoing.” “We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured. All systems, all vestiges of modern living — communications, power, water — all are down. Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people in a mass sort of way,” he said.
The Weather Channel’s Jim Edds told CNN via satellite phone that the situation in Tacloban, believed to be the hardest hit, is “chaotic” and stressed that there is currently “a desperate need for drinking water”: “We need it now, we needed it 12 hours ago. Relief is needed here. Now.” In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that America “stands ready to help.”