TACLOBAN, Philippines —
Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record. Its sustained winds weakened to 120 kph (74 mph) as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early Monday after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory. Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.
Later Monday, the storm was expected to enter southern China and further weaken while dropping torrential rains on the provinces of Guangxi and Hunan. Guangxi officials advised fishermen to stay onshore.
Reports were trickling in, indicating deaths elsewhere besides Leyte Island.
On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.
With communications still knocked out in many areas, it was unclear how authorities were arriving at their estimates of the number of people killed, and it will be days before the full extent of the storm is known.
With no aid reaching, people were seeing helping themselves to food and supplies from unattended shops and stores.
President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.
Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from abroad.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and fly in emergency supplies.
Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican in prayer for the victims. The Philippines has the largest number of Catholics in Asia, and Filipinos are one of Rome’s biggest immigrant communities.