An estimated 10,000 people have died in the central Philippines province of Leyte as a result of a catastrophic typhoon that ripped through the archipelago Friday, a regional police chief said Sunday.
Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria told Reuters that Typhoon Haiyan lashed the province, swallowing coastal towns and causing widespread damage.
He added that up to 80 percent of the area in the path of the typhoon had been destroyed.
"We had a meeting last night with the governor and the other officials. The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died," Soria said.
The tropical cyclone wiped away buildings and leveled seaside homes with massive storm surges — some as high as 20 feet — as it barreled through six central Philippine islands on Friday. Most of the deaths were on Leyte Island.
The city of Tacloban was among the worst affected areas.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said the death toll in the city alone "could go up to 10,000." About 300 to 400 bodies have been recovered so far, Lim said.
The figure marks a dramatic increase on earlier estimates of the death toll resulting from the typhoon.
The Philippine Red Cross said earlier Saturday that more than 1,000 people were killed in Tacloban, a coastal city of 200,000 people located about 360 miles southeast of the capital Manila.
"The rescue operation is ongoing. We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured," Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said after visiting Tacloban on Saturday.
"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."
President Benigno Aquino III said the casualties "will be substantially more," but gave no figure or estimate. He said the government's priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas to allow for the delivery of relief and medical assistance to victims.
The typhoon weakened Sunday as it approached central and northern Vietnam where authorities have evacuated more than 500,000 people.
Nearly 800,000 Filipinos were forced to flee their homes ahead of the storm, which weather officials said had sustained winds of 147 mph with gusts of 170 mph when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S. and nearly approaching a Category 5 hurricane.
The full extent of the damage caused by Haiyan became clearer Saturday after officials were able to fly across parts of the country. However, relief workers are still struggling to deliver food and aid with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees. The devastation in parts of the country has also made it dangerous to land helicopters that could be used to deliver supplies.
"The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami," Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the U.N. Disaster Assessment Coordination Team sent to Tacloban, said referring to the 2004 disaster that killed more than 200,000 people in Southeast Asia and the surrounding region.
"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris," Stampa said.
In Vietnam, residents were bracing for the impact of the typhoon. On Saturday, authorities in four central provinces attempted to evacuate as many as 500,000 from high risk areas to government buildings, schools and other concrete homes able to withstand strong winds. Residents have also been placing sand bags and tying down roofs ahead of the storm.
Al Jazeera and wire services