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Philippine Red Cross says typhoon relief efforts being hampered by looters

The Philippine National Red Cross says its search and rescue efforts in the wake of a deadly typhoon -- feared to have caused a “very high number of fatalities” -- is being hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies the agency was shipping from a port city.

Rescuers also faced blocked roads and damaged airports on Monday as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines.

With other rampant looting being reported, President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday that he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in the hard-hit city of Tacloban, as officials have proposed. The national disaster agency can recommend such a measure if the local government is unable to carry out its functions, Aquino said.

A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.

Aquino flew around Leyte Island by helicopter on Sunday and landed in Tacloban to get a firsthand look at the disaster. He said the government's priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas and deliver relief and medical assistance to victims.

Two days after Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines, the death toll is feared to be rising into the thousands. As many as 10,000 people are believed dead in Tacloban, the Leyte provincial capital of 200,000 people.

Regional police chief Elmer Soria said he was briefed by Leyte provincial Gov. Dominic Petilla late Saturday and was told that there may be 10,000  deaths in the province, mostly by drowning and from collapsed buildings. The governor's figure was based on reports from village officials in areas where the storm hit.

Reports also trickled in from elsewhere on the island, and from neighboring islands, indicating hundreds, if not thousands more deaths, though it will be days before the full extent of the storm's impact can be assessed. About 300 to 400 bodies have already been recovered.

A mass burial was planned Sunday in Palo town near Tacloban, which is located about 360 miles southeast of the capital of the Philippines, Manila. It was one of six islands slammed by the storm, which was one of the strongest on record to have hit the Philippines.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippine archipelago on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands before exiting into the South China Sea, packing winds of 147 miles per hour that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge that caused sea waters to rise 20 feet.

By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., nearly in the top category, a 5.

On Samar Island, which is facing Tacloban, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said Sunday that 300 people were confirmed dead in Basey town and another 2,000 are missing.

There are still other towns on Samar that have not been reached, Dacaynos said, and appealed for food and water. Power was knocked out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

Earlier, the Philippine Red Cross told Reuters that based on reports it estimated at least 1,200 were dead in Tacloban and 200 more in Samar Province.

“The rescue operation is ongoing. We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured,” Interior Secretary Max Roxas said. “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.”

Rescue crews reported difficulty in delivering food and water to affected areas due to damaged roads and fallen trees.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was "speechless" when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.

"I told him all systems are down," Gazmin said. "There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They're looting."

The airport in Tacloban looked like a muddy wasteland of debris Saturday, with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars. The airport tower’s glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were flying in and out at the start of relief operations.

"On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street," said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila. "They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboards." She said she passed "well over 100" dead bodies along the way.

Andrews said the seaside airport terminal was “ruined” by storm surges.

PHOTOS: Typhoon leaves trail of destruction.

Television images showed residents of Tacloban wading through flooded streets littered half-submerged cars, Reuters reported. Corpses hung from tree branches and were scattered along sidewalks and among flattened buildings, while looters raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water.

"Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing," Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, told Reuters.

"A lot of the dead were scattered," added Joseph de la Cruz, who hitched a ride on a military plane after walking eight hours to reach the airport.

At least 20 bodies were taken to a church in nearby Palo town that was used as an evacuation center but had to be abandoned when its roofs were blown away, the TV network GMA reported. TV images showed howling winds peeling off tin roof sheets during heavy rain.

Ferocious winds felled large branches and snapped coconut trees. A man was shown carrying the body of his 6-year-old daughter who drowned.

"I saw those big waves and immediately told my neighbors to flee. We thought it was a tsunami," Floremil Mazo, a villager in southeastern Davao Oriental province, told Reuters.

Nearly 800,000 people were forced to flee their homes and damage was believed to be extensive. About 4 million people were affected by the typhoon, the Philippine Red Cross said.

The Philippines is annually buffeted by tropical storms and typhoons, which are called hurricanes and cyclones elsewhere on the planet. The nation is positioned alongside the warm South Pacific where typhoons are spawned. Many rake the islands with fierce winds and powerful waves each year, and the archipelago's exposed eastern seaboard often bears the brunt.

Even by the standards of the Philippines, however, Haiyan is a catastrophe of epic proportions and has shocked the impoverished and densely populated nation of 96 million people. Its winds were among the strongest ever recorded, and it appears to have killed many more people than the previous deadliest Philippine storm, Thelma, which killed around 5,100 people in the central Philippines in 1991.The deadliest disaster on record was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791.

UNICEF estimated that about 1.7 million children are living in areas impacted by the typhoon, according to the agency's representative in the Philippines Tomoo Hozumi. UNICEF's supply division in Copenhagen was loading 60 metric tons of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday.

"The devastation is ... I don't have the words for it," Roxas said. "It's really horrific. It's a great human tragedy."

President Barack Obama said the U.S. is "already providing significant humanitarian assistance."

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the millions of people affected by this devastating storm," Obama said in a statement Sunday.

In Vietnam, about 600,000 people living in the central region who had been evacuated returned to their homes Sunday after the weakened storm changed directions and took aim at the country's north. The storm was approaching landfall Sunday night with sustained winds of 83 mph. It is expected to hit Vietnam early Monday.

Four people from three central Vietnamese provinces died while trying to reinforce their homes ahead of the storm, the national floods and storms control department said Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.