IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Typhoon Haiyan: Philippines president says death toll could be far lower than worst estimates

By Harry Smith, Nancy Snyderman and Eric Baculinao, NBC NewsMANILA, Philippines — The president of the typhoon-ravaged Philippines said Tuesday that the death toll will probably be 2,000 to 2,500 — far lower than an earlier estimate of 10,000, a figure that he said might have been influenced by “emotional drama.”The official death toll was at 1,833 Wednesday morning, including almost 1,300
Get more newsLiveon

By Harry Smith, Nancy Snyderman and Eric Baculinao, NBC News

MANILA, Philippines — The president of the typhoon-ravaged Philippines said Tuesday that the death toll will probably be 2,000 to 2,500 — far lower than an earlier estimate of 10,000, a figure that he said might have been influenced by “emotional drama.”

The official death toll was at 1,833 Wednesday morning, including almost 1,300 in the province of Leyte. At least 244 people were killed in devastated Tacloban City, Leyte’s provincial capital.

Two of the people killed were Americans, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday, adding that number may change as more information becomes available. “Out of the respect of the families, we are not, of course, providing details,” Psaki said.

President Benigno Aquino told CNN in an interview that the figure he had was “about 2,000, but this might still get higher,” and he added that authorities had yet to reach almost 30 cities and towns.

“Ten thousand, I think, is too much,” Aquino said. “There was emotional drama involved with that particular estimate.”

Rescuers had yet to reach remote parts of the country, including the city of Guiuan, which has a population of 40,000 and was mostly destroyed.

A regional police director in the Philippines gave the figure of 10,000 on Sunday, two days after Typhoon Haiyan blew across the Pacific archipelago, packing sustained wind of 195 mph, more powerful than Hurricane Katrina.

On Tuesday, hungry survivors scoured the wreckage in hopes of finding scraps of food, and desperate families overwhelmed two planes from the Philippines Air Force that landed to take people out of the storm-shattered city of Tacloban.

Nearly 2,600 people have been been confirmed as injured from the storm -- at least 1,800 in the Leyte-Tacloban City area alone -- and the figures are predicted to rise as emergency teams reach destroyed areas.

The general in charge of American relief operations called on the world to mobilize, and warned that time was short.

"The rest of the world needs to get mobilized, the rest of the donor community," Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy told NBC News from the base in Manila where much of the aid was being sent to the disaster zone. "There are people who are suffering tonight. A week from now will be too late. We need to mobilize tonight." 

The U.S. military has dubbed their relief mission “Operation Damayan,” NBC News has learned. Damayan means help in the Filipino language.

The United States has sent the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which carries 5,000 sailors and 80 aircraft, and three U.S. Navy warships — the cruisers USS Antietam and USS Cowpens and the destroyer USS Mustin — to the Pacific islands in the aftermath of the storm, defense officials said. 

The ships left Hong Kong overnight Tuesday and could be in position off the shores of the Philippines within 36 hours. A merchant marine supply ship, the USNS Charles Drew, was also en route and was expected to link up with the USS George Washington. Another destroyer, the USS Lessen, started making its way to the area yesterday but its arrival time was not certain, defense officials said.

Two U.S. amphibious ships are also preparing to go to the Philippines to help with relief efforts, military officials said.. The ships, the USS Ashland and USS Germantown, are in Sasebo, Japan, but will sail to Okinawa on Wednesday, where they will pick up Marines and supplies, before steaming on to the Philippines.

All told, the Pentagon expect to have 2,000 Marines — some with heavy equipment such as bulldozers and tractors — in the Philippines in coming days, a senior Marine official said

The government also said it would provide $20 million to help in relief efforts. The Defense Department said it was continuing to work closely with the country's government to determine what, if any, additional assets may be required.

International relief efforts have begun to gather pace, with countries and organizations promising tens of millions of dollars in help. The United Nations released $25 million for aid relief on Monday from the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund. 

The stench of death hung over cities and towns throughout the central Philippines fivedaysafter Haiyan laid waste to swathes of the country. Besides the confirmed dead, 2,784 other people were injured, according to the country’s national disaster agency. That death toll was almost double Monday's official tally.

Haiyan has affected 9.5 million people across the Philippines and displaced at least 600,000, according to the U.N.

The devastation is spread over many islands and aid workers and emergency officials say that there has been no contact at all with some areas hit by the storm, which packed wind guests of up 235 mph.

Rescue workers were trying to reach towns and villages on Tuesday that have been cut off, which could reveal the full extent of the loss of life and devastation from the disaster.

An NBC News crew in the devastated fishing village of Magallanes on Tuesday saw dozens of uncollected corpses, including some of children lying in the wreckage of buildings. The village had still to see any food aid. 

In a community nearby, residents lined up for half a mile to collect rice being distributed.

Jeb Mabilog, mayor of Iloilo City on the island of Panay, told NBC News that Friday's storm "flattened" about 80 percent of the province's north area.

"Buildings, churches, hospitals have all been destroyed," he added. "At the moment most of the roads are still not passable and there are still a lot of challenges on the delivery of food, water and medicine and all the other basic needs." 

A civil defense official earlier told NBC News that more than 56,000 homes had been destroyed on Panay, with 83,000 others damaged.

The typhoon also levelled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 6 miles across a bay from Tacloban in Leyte province. About 2,000 people were missing in Basey, according to the governor of Samar province. 

"In some cases the devastation has been total," Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference on Monday.

To make matters worse, another tropical storm made landfall overnight.

When two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived at the typhoon-wrecked airport in Tacloban, a city in the grips of a health crisis in the storm’s epicenter, more than 3,000 people who had camped out hoping to escape the devastation surged onto past a broken fence onto the tarmac. A handful made it on board.

Meanwhile, doctors and nurses at Divine Word Hospital in Tacloban continued to treat people in the face of huge challenges: no power, security or even water. 

"Even as doctors, we stayed, we didn't even go to our families immediately," Dr. Francis Visto told NBC News. "We stayed with the patients."

The damaged airport on Tacloban also houses makeshift clinics.  But a doctor there said supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived Tuesday for the first time.

"Until then, patients had to endure the pain," said Dr. Victoriano Sambale. 

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube, Catherine Chomiak, F. Brinley Bruton and Henry Austin, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.