Typhoon Haiyan nears Vietnam after killing 138 in Philippines

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WASHINGTON — Super Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 138 people as it battered the central Philippines and the death toll may climb to 1,200 with the storm bearing down on Vietnam.

Haiyan, with more powerful wind speeds than that of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina at 171 miles per hour, destroyed an airport, cut power and phones lines, and flattened crops. The official death toll is 138, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, while CNN cited the Philippine Red Cross for its estimate of 1,200 potential deaths.

As of 5 p.m. local time Saturday, Haiyan was 475 miles west-northwest of San Jose over the West Philippine Sea and forecast to move at 35 kph toward Vietnam, which plans to evacuate about 883,015 people in 11 provinces and cities, according to a government website posting.

About 100 bodies were found on the streets of Tacloban in Leyte province, where the year’s most powerful cyclone made landfall Saturday, John Andrews, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said by phone.

“The report of damage is significant,” Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said in a televised briefing. “The report on the casualties is more alarming on the Tacloban side.”

More than 4.2 million Filipinos, or about 4 percent of the population, were affected by Haiyan, mostly in central provinces such as Visayas, before the storm left the country, the government said.

The Philippines was the nation most affected by natural disasters in 2012, with more than 2,000 deaths, according to the Brussels-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake left 222 dead in Visayas on Oct. 15.

President Benigno Aquino said the government is prepared to use $533 million from various agencies and his discretionary fund for relief and rebuilding of disaster-ravaged towns and provinces.

“Reconstruction will be funded,” Aquino said during a televised briefing in Manila. The government doesn’t yet have the full extent of the devastation, he said.

Tacloban’s airport was destroyed and only the runway remains, Andrews said. “Very many” bodies were scattered on the streets of Tacloban, homes made of wood were wiped out and many roads have been rendered impassable by debris, Lt. Jim Alagao, a military spokesman, said by phone.

“It was like standing behind a jet engine,” Manuel Roxas, the Interior and Local Government secretary, told DZMM radio. “The winds were that strong, hurled roofs, wood into the air.”

Police and army troops will be flown into Tacloban from Manila to maintain order amid reports of looting and to help clear roads, Roxas said from Cebu province in the central Philippines, where the government set up a command center.

Storm surges may have caused deaths, Gwen Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said in a phone interview yesterday, adding she received reports that winds were so strong that they could knock down steel structures.

Aquino said there was massive devastation in Tacloban, citing Interior Secretary Roxas, who saw people walking dazed. “Tacloban isn’t as prepared as the others,” Aquino said, adding he plans to visit the area today.

More than 340,000 people in 36 provinces have been displaced by Haiyan, including those being served in evacuation centers, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said. More than 3,400 houses were damaged, while four airports remain shut, the agency said.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung Saturday ordered local officials to closely monitor Haiyan’s movement and called for boats to find shelter as the storm approaches. He also ordered authorities to reinforce houses, facilities, and move citizens away from dangerous areas.

Haiyan’s center is forecast to be in the sea areas of Quang Ngai-Quang Tri provinces at 10 a.m. Sunday, with likely wind speeds of 83 to 103 miles an hour, according to the country’s National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting.

The middle part of central Vietnam and north Central Highlands will experience heavy rain, according to the center.

The typhoon is forecast to move along the coast and approach land this morning local time.

After landfall, the storm is expected to weaken into a depression and result in widespread rain over north Vietnam, and may cause flooding and landslides, the government said in an advisory.

Quang Nam province planned to evacuate more than 216,000 people by 5 p.m. Saturday, according to a statement posted on the government’s website. Danang City planned to remove 73,000 people by 7 p.m., while Thua Thien-Hue was expected to evacuate 113,000.

Two C-130 cargo planes have arrived in Tacloban and Almendras said he made sure it was carrying body bags along with goods and medical supplies.

The Philippine National Police sent a contingent of 150 search-and-rescue troops, crime laboratory examiners and communication and electronic service technicians to help with recovery efforts, the PNP said in a statement yesterday.

Globe Telecom Inc., the country’s second-largest telecommunications company, said about 26 percent of its network in the central island group of Visayas had been “adversely affected” by the typhoon.

Robinsons Land Corp. said its mall in Tacloban will stay shut. Malls in Bacolod and Cebu, also in the Visayas, will resume operations, it said in a statement. Gaisano Mall in Tacloban was looted, according to local radio DZMM.

“The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination Team, said in a statement. “This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumble weed and the streets are strewn with debris.” Stampa’s team arrived in Tacloban Saturday morning.

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