'Philippines death toll overstated'

The President says the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan is closer to 2,000 or 2,500.

Residents walk through debris as they rush to a rescue helicopter delivering relief foods in Hernani town, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines four days after Typhoon Haiyan hit the country. Picture: AFP.

TACLOBAN - Philippine President Benigno Aquino said local officials had overstated the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan, saying it was closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the 10,000 previously estimated, comments that drew scepticism from some aid workers.

The government has been overwhelmed by the typhoon, which flattened Tacloban, coastal capital of Leyte province where several local officials have said they feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like surge of seawater.

Rescue workers have yet to reach scores of other towns and villages in the path of one of the strongest storms on record, five days after it smashed into the central Philippines.

Aquino, who has been on the defensive over his handling of the disaster, said the government was still gathering information from various storm-struck areas and the death toll may rise. "Ten thousand, I think, is too much," Aquino told CNN in an interview. "There was emotional drama involved with that particular estimate."

"We're hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing, but so far 2,000, about 2,500, is the number we are working on as far as deaths are concerned," he said.

A presidential spokesman said Aquino referred to estimated deaths. Official confirmed deaths stood at 1,774 on Tuesday, with only 84 missing, a figure aid workers consider to be widely inaccurate.

The preliminary number of missing, according to the Red Cross, is 22,000.

UNPARALLELED DISASTER FOR THE PHILIPPINES

More the 670,000 people have been displaced by the storm and many have no access to food, water or medicine, the United Nations said.

With international aid efforts picking up, relief supplies have begun pouring into Tacloban along roads flanked with corpses and canyons of debris.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos, who is in the Philippines, called the scale of destruction "shocking".

Aquino has declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers to control looting in Tacloban, a once-vibrant port city of 220,000 that is now a wasteland.

The local government was wiped out by the storm, said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas. Officials were dead, missing or too overcome with grief to work. Of the city's 293 police officers, only 20 had shown up for duty, he said.

Medical workers are treating the injured at evacuation centres for lacerations and other wounds. But many complain of a lack of food and poor hygiene.

SA INVOLVEMENT

The Philippines embassy in Cape Town says it's heartwarming to see the world reaching out to those affected.

South African emergency teams are making their way to the disaster ravaged island nation.

The embassy's Steven Chaimowitz says, "When you see this and read about it, when everybody gets together do good to fellow human beings, it's absolutely wonderful. It gives you such hope for the future."