Nov. 9, 2013— -- 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.
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.
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.
The storm will likely go down in history as the most powerful typhoon in recorded history to make landfall.
The world's strongest recorded hurricane, typhoon or cyclone to previously make landfall was Hurricane Camille of 1969, which roared ashore with 190 mph winds in Mississippi. Haiyan's sustained winds easily make it a category 5 hurricane.
Television images from Tacloban city on Leyte Island showed a street under knee-deep floodwater carrying debris that had been blown down by the fierce winds. Tin roofing sheets ripped from buildings were flying above the street.
Although Typhoon Haiyan (HIGH-y-an) has diminished to a category 2 storm, it is expected to cause extensive damage when it hits Vietnam on Sunday according to Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground told ABC News Radio. He says the country is not equipped for the type of rain and wind expected.
"The buildings in Vietnam aren't to the same sort of codes we have here in the U.S. and they're not going to be able to withstand 50, 70, 90 mile per hour winds near the coast," said Masters.
Haiyan is expected to move over South China Sea and into Vietnam by Sunday by about 5 p.m. Eastern Time with strong winds up to 105 mph. The storm is forecast to significantly weaken as it reaches Laos and inland China, but tropical rain could produce deadly flash floods.
Haiyan is about 300 miles wide, roughly the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. The storm surge could likely exceed 23 feet, compared with the 14 feet Superstorm Sandy brought with it last year when it hit the East Coast of the U.S.
"It's stronger in an absolute sense than Sandy but the strongest winds are concentrated very close to the center as compared to a storm like Sandy where the strong winds extended very far away from the center," the National Hurricane Center's Richard Pass told ABC News Radio.
Haiyan marks the 24th named storm this year to hit the vulnerable islands.
ABC News Radio, Anthony Castellano and Alexis Shaw contributed to this report.