Typhoon Haiyan: 'Surging Sea' Blamed for Countless Deaths

PHOTO: Families of Indigenous Filipino Badjao seek refuge inside a gymnasium turned into an evacuation center during a heavy downpour brought by Typhoon Haiyan in Cebu province, Philippines, Nov.8, 2013.
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The casualty count is being characterized as catastrophic in the central Philippines from the powerful typhoon that ripped through the region, with reports of up to 10,000 dead coming in.

"We have so many dead people. We don't have bags," said mayor Remedios Petilla of Palo, a municipality in the Eastern Visayas region that was hard hit.

A senior regional police official and a city administrator in the typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city in the central Philippines say the death toll there could reach 10,000 people, according to The Associated Press.

Regional police chief Elmer Soria told the AP that on Saturday he was briefed by Leyte provincial Gov. Dominic Petilla, who told him that there were about 10,000 deaths on the island. Most of the deaths were from drowning or caused by collapsed buildings, he said. Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said that the death toll in the city alone "could go up to 10,000," according to The AP.

A half-dozen central Philippine islands are reeling from Typhoon Haiyan after it made landfall early Friday morning. The storm, with sustained winds of nearly 200 miles an hour, flattened entire towns in the country's southern and central regions.

On Saturday, Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross, told ABC News that a preliminary report tallied at least 1,000 dead with hundreds more injured. Earlier, the Philippine Red Cross told ABC News there were 1,200 casualties estimated from the storm's destruction, but Pang said the death toll is expected to rise.

High and racing sea water caused many of the deaths, says Richard Gordon, Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross.

"The waves and the rain were aplenty," Gordon said. "They are strong, they move fast, but it was the surging seas along the coastline that killed a lot of people."

The typhoon made landfall at 4:40 a.m. local time near Guiuan, on the Philippine island of Samar, about 405 miles southeast of the country's capital, Manila.

The speed of the storm may have ultimately been the country's salvation, as Typhoon Haiyan quickly blew across the island nation rather than sitting over land.

Read: Typhoon Pounds the Philippines

But a clearer picture of the sheer devastation caused by the storm is emerging after entire towns have been washed away.

Bodies of the dead are scattered through the country's streets as residents await relief. With power and communication out for millions, it could take days, if not weeks, before officials in the Philippines learn the full extent of the damage.

"The devastation is, I don't have the words for it," Interior Secretary Max Roxas told the Associated Press. "It's really horrific. It's a great human tragedy."

"There are so many people dead," one resident told ABC News.

PHOTOS: Typhoon Haiyan Makes Landfall in the Philippines

Noam Schriever, an American citizen, was trapped in a hotel in Boracay during the chaos, forced to ride out the storm.

"It was crazy. You had to watch out for flying debris. These tin roofs fly off -- they're like projectiles," Schriever told ABC News. "The wind got to the point where you had to brace yourself."

The Philippine Red Cross and its partners are gearing up for a major relief effort "because of the magnitude of the disaster," the agency's chairman, Richard Gordon, told The Associated Press.

Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement of condolence for deaths in the Philippines, offering American aid.

"I know that these horrific acts of nature are a burden that you have wrestled with and courageously surmounted before," he said. "Your spirit is strong. The United States stands ready to help, our embassies in the Philippines and Palau are in close contact with your governments, and our most heartfelt prayers are with you."

The U.S. Department of Defence announced that the initial focus of humanitarian relief operations will include surface maritime search and rescue (SAR), medium-heavy helicopter lift support, airborne maritime SAR, fixed wing lift support and logistics enablers.

Super Typhoon: One of the Biggest Storms Ever

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