Typhoon death toll surges

Filipino officials confirmed deaths nationwide rose by more than 1,200 overnight to 3,621 on Friday.

Residents walk through debris as they rush to a rescue helicopter delivering relief aid in Hernani town, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines on 11 November, 2013. Picture: AFP.

TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES - The death toll from one of the world's most powerful typhoons surged on Friday, but the aid effort was still so patchy bodies lay uncollected and thousands tried desperately to evacuate stricken communities across the central Philippines.

After long delays, hundreds of international aid workers set up makeshift hospitals and trucked in supplies, while helicopters from a US aircraft carrier ferried medicine and water to remote areas levelled by Typhoon Haiyan a week ago.

"There's a change in the pace of the response. I can see the international support coming here," said Captain Victoriano Sambale, a Philippine military doctor who since Saturday has treated patients in a room strewn with dirt and debris.

"Day one we treated 600-plus patients. Day two we had 700-plus patients. Day three we lost our count," he said.

President Benigno Aquino, caught off guard by the scale of the disaster, has been criticised for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties, especially in Tacloban, capital of hardest-hit Leyte province.

A notice board in Tacloban City Hall estimated the deaths at 4,000 on Friday, up from 2,000 a day before, in that town alone. Hours later, Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez apologised and said the toll was for the whole central Philippines.

Romualdez said some people may have been swept out to sea and their bodies lost after a tsunami-like wall of seawater slammed into coastal areas.

The City Hall toll was the first public acknowledgement that the number of fatalities would likely far exceed an estimate given this week by Aquino, who said lives lost would be closer to 2,000 or 2,500.

Officials confirmed deaths nationwide rose by more than 1,200 overnight to 3,621 on Friday. Adding to the confusion, the United Nations, citing government figures, put the latest overall death toll at 4,460, but a spokeswoman said it was now reviewing the figure.

On Tuesday, Aquino said estimates of 10,000 dead by local officials were overstated and caused by "emotional trauma".

National police spokesman Reuben Sindac said Soria had experienced an "acute stress reaction" and had been transferred to headquarters in Manila. But a senior police official told Reuters he believed Soria was re-assigned because of his unauthorised casualty estimate.