An area of the central Philippines devastated by one of the world's worst typhoons began burying its dead in mass graves on Monday, as soldiers and police reinforcements arrived to hard-hit Tacloban City to help restore order.
Gov. Sharee Ann Tan of Samar province, whose town of Guiuan was the first to be hit by Typhoon Haiyan when it made landfall Friday, said in a television interview that bodies were buried in mass graves in Basey, a town that faces Tacloban City across the sea. She said the towns of Basey and Marabut-in the province of Samar, about 500 miles south of Manila-were all but destroyed.
She said they counted around 443 dead in Basey. "And a majority of those who survived are injured," she said.
Efforts to get food, medicine and other aid into Tacloban were hindered because of the typhoon's toll on the airport and roads. The city's airport was opened to propeller planes, while roads around the city were covered with toppled trees and mud.
The grim hunt for bodies is expected to result in a substantially higher number of deaths. The Red Cross said it had ordered 10,000 body bags.
In Tacloban, people ransacked shops over the weekend, while food and medical stations were swamped by those in need. Rescue workers dug through rubble and mud in search of survivors.
President Benigno Aquino III said the city would be placed under a state of emergency to allow the central government to speed up relief and reconstruction efforts.
The typhoon, known locally as Yolanda, hammered the Philippines with fierce winds and heavy rains, shredding homes, uprooting trees and flinging cars and boats.
The storm weakened as it made landfall in northeastern Vietnam early Monday, causing widespread power outages and triggering heavy rains that authorities feared may cause floods and landslides. Haiyan was expected to move inland toward the border with China.
Mr. Aquino said late Sunday the government was trying to verify the number of dead. The official toll early Monday stood at 255, but was expected to climb.
The Philippine National Red Cross said the death toll could run into the thousands, adding that it was difficult to calculate the figure because the storm left bodies scattered over wide areas.
Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, described the disaster as monumental. "As of now, there's no time to count the bodies," he said.
Mr. Aquino sought to play down fears of a staggering death toll. "If I can appeal: Let us reduce the anxieties of those who have relatives in the affected areas by not exaggerating the figures," he said.
Mr. Aquino deployed police and military personnel to typhoon-ravaged Leyte province, where looters in Tacloban, the province's capital, barged into shopping centers and carted away food, clothing and electronics, while others reportedly broke into ATMs. The area was largely without telecommunications and electricity.
Mr. Aquino said a special-forces battalion would be deployed and that there would be a "show of force" by armored personnel carriers in the streets "to discourage people who might be into this looting."
Meanwhile, families began the search for missing loved ones.
A ferry from Cebu City-nearly 370 miles south of Manila-to Ormoc was loaded with dozens of families carrying biscuits, water and bags of rice to family members, some of whom they hadn't heard from since the typhoon hit.
"I'm scared, but you have to do what you can for your family," said Rosemary Mendez, 26 years old, who flew from Manila to board the ferry to Ormoc. From there, she hoped to journey by bus to find her mother and other family members.
Aljenido Maciar, 29, who works as a graphic artist in Cebu, carried eggs and canned goods home for his parents, who work as butchers in Ormoc.
"They don't have a home anymore," he said. His parents' house, made of wood and a metal roof, was destroyed. "No roof, no walls-gone."
On Sunday night in Ormoc, the streets were quiet, with the only illumination from headlights on motorbikes or from flashlights as some people tried to maneuver around mud and debris. Hotels were filled with people whose homes had been destroyed.
By Monday morning, the sky was clear and blue in Ormoc as people tried to return to normalcy. People queued for water at street taps and for oil at a gas station. Windows were busted out all over town, many wood and metal homes completely collapsed, and a few cars overturned.
"We've been eating rice from relief agencies and cooking it over charcoal on the street," said Jewel Mae, 21, a coffee seller whose home was demolished. She rested on a couch in a hotel lobby in Ormoc, surrounded by friends who came to the hotel to charge their phones.
"I don't know what we're going to do," she said. "All we have left is a floor-no walls, no ceiling."
rmoc is familiar with this kind of devastation: In 1991, flash floods here killed more than 5,000 people-the most on record caused by a storm in the Philippines.
Across Leyte province, Philippine Red Cross trucks were swarmed as relief workers distributed food and water to residents.
The government estimated more than 23,000 houses were damaged and 9.7 million people were affected by the storm. More than 477,000 people were displaced by Haiyan, with 400,000 of them taking refuge in evacuation centers, the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council said.
Tacloban has a rich history in the Philippines. Nearly 70 years ago, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed there to liberate the Philippines from the occupying Japanese army. It is also home to Congresswoman Imelda Marcos, widow of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The head of a United Nations disaster team that arrived in Tacloban on Saturday compared the devastation to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 14 countries.
"This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweeds, and the streets are strewn with debris," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of United Nations Disaster Assessment. Relief efforts will be challenging, he said, because roads between the airport and the central city were "completely blocked."
Cebu Gov. Junjun Davide said he still had no idea about the value of damage to his province.
Since taking office in June, Mr. Davide has faced a trio of calamities, including an earthquake near neighboring Bohol in October that killed 222, an August shipping collision that left an estimated 200 dead, and now the typhoon.
"We're still assessing it," he said. The tally of dead in Cebu, a popular tourist destination, stood at about a dozen Sunday.
Agriculture in the region has been dealt a particularly heavy blow. "The poultry business is wiped out," Mr. Davide said, referring to the large daily supply of eggs that Bantayan Island-one of Cebu's most devastated regions-provides to the province.
He said his province would recover. "We have very strong faith in God," he said, "and together we will overcome this challenge."