Aaron Favila, Associated Press
TACLOBAN, Philippines — Typhoon-ravaged Philippine islands faced an unimaginably huge relief effort that had barely begun Monday, as bloated bodies lay uncollected and uncounted in the streets and survivors pleaded for food, water and medicine.
Police guarded stores to prevent people from hauling off food, water and such non-essentials as TVs and treadmills, but there was often no one to carry away the dead — not even those seen along the main road from the airport to Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country's remote eastern seaboard.
At a small naval base, eight bloated corpses — including that of a baby — were submerged in sea water brought in by the storm. Officers there had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them.
Two officials said Sunday that Friday's typhoon may have killed 10,000 or more people, but with the slow pace of recovery, the official death toll remained well below that. The Philippine military confirmed 942 dead, but shattered communications, transportation links and local governments suggest the final toll is days away. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said "we pray" that the death toll is less than 10,000.
Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, punctuated only by a few concrete buildings that remained standing.
"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way — every single building, every single house," U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over the city. He spoke on the tarmac at the airport, where two Marine C-130 cargo planes were parked, engines running, unloading supplies.
Authorities said at least 2 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, which is called Yolanda in the Philippines but is known as Haiyan elsewhere in Asia. It's one of the most powerful recorded typhoons to ever hit land and likely the deadliest natural disaster to beset this poor Southeast Asian nation.
Philippine soldiers were distributing food and water in Tacloban, and assessment teams from the United Nations and other international agencies were seen for the first time. The U.S. military dispatched food, water, generators and a contingent of Marines to the city, the first outside help in what will swell into a major international relief mission.
"Please tell my family I'm alive," said Erika Mae Karakot, a survivor on Tacloban's Leyte island, as she lined up for aid. "We need water and medicine because a lot of the people we are with are wounded. Some are suffering from diarrhea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water."
Authorities said they had evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, but some of the evacuation centers proved to be no protection against the wind and rising water. The Philippine National Red Cross, responsible for warning the region and giving advice, said people were not prepared for a storm surge.
"Imagine America, which was prepared and very rich, still had a lot of challenges at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but what we had was three times more than what they received," said Gwendolyn Pang, the group's executive director.
Emily Ortega, 21 and about to give birth, was among those who had thought she was safe. But the evacuation center she had fled to was devastated by the 6-meter (20-foot) storm surge, and she had to swim and cling to a post to survive. She reached safety at the airport, where she gave birth to a baby girl. Bea Joy Sagales appeared in good health. Her arrival drew applause from others in the airport and military medics who assisted in the delivery.
The winds, rains and coastal storm surges transformed neighborhoods into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Ships were tossed inland, cars and trucks swept out to sea and bridges and ports washed away.
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