Officials in the Philippines feared the death toll could climb to 10,000 in the province of Leyte, as a new day dawned on the Pacific islands ravaged by one of the most powerful storms ever recorded.
Chief superintendent Elmer Soria, a regional police director, said most of the deaths appear to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris and collapsed buildings, The Associated Press reported.
"We have an estimate given on the casualties, more or less 10,000 (dead), according to this report, for the whole province of Leyte," Soria said.
He said he had been briefed by Leyte provincial Gov. Dominic Petilla late Saturday.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim told the AP the number of deaths in the city alone "could go up to 10,000." Tacloban is a city of 200,000 people, the biggest on Leyte Island. A provincial disaster official told the AP that 300 people were confirmed dead in the town of Basey on the island of Samar, which faces Tacloban, and another 2,000 were missing.
The national government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest death toll -- a notable increase from Philippine Red Cross estimates on Saturday of about 1,000 people killed.
NBC News was unable to independently confirm these numbers as many lines of communication have been compromised by the storm.
"From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami," Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas told Reuters.
"I don't know how to describe what I saw. It's horrific."
The hardest-hit parts of the Philippines remained cut off late Saturday.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the archipelago early Friday and survivors of the storm described towering waves that swept away all but the hardiest shelters.
One resident of Tacloban said he and others took refuge inside a parked Jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a wall of water.
"The water was as high as a coconut tree," 44-year-old Sandy Torotoro, a bicycle taxi driver who lives near the airport with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, told the AP. "I got out of the Jeep and I was swept away by the rampaging water with logs, trees and our house, which was ripped off from its mooring."
"When we were being swept by the water, many people were floating and raising their hands and yelling for help. But what can we do? We also needed to be helped," he said.
Survivors were described as being in desperate need of clean drinking water and food as officials continue to survey the damage.
Typhoon Haiyan, the biggest storm ever recorded, slammed into the Philippines, killing hundreds. World Vision's Aaron Aspi joins to discuss.
"We need it now, we needed it 12 hours ago," Jim Edds of the Weather Channel said in a brief satellite-phone call from Tacloban. "... They need to park a ship off the coast (with supplies)."
Haiyan packed sustained winds of 147 mph, with gusts up to 170 mph, and heavy rains when it made landfall early Friday. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the U.S., and nearly in the top category, a 5.
Authorities said it flattened hundreds of homes and triggered mudslides, flash flooding and a storm surge with waves of up to 30 feet. Authorities said almost 800,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters.
So far, government officials have confirmed just 138 deaths. At least 118 of those were on hardest-hit Leyte Island, where Tacloban is located, national disaster agency spokesman Maj. Reynaldo Balido told the AP.
On Saturday, Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said preliminary counts from teams on the ground indicated that at least 1,200 people had perished -- 1,000 people in Tacloban and at least 200 more in Samar.
Pang said the numbers came from preliminary reports by Red Cross teams on the ground.
The AP reported that the city's airport looked like a muddy wasteland of debris, with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars. The airport tower's glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were busy flying in and out at the start of relief operations, it said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that America "stands ready to help."
The weather system was downgraded overnight from a "super typhoon" to a typhoon, and was making its way toward Vietnam.
Philippine officials said it would take days to assemble a complete picture of the damage and death toll, because many of the country's lines of communication had been severed. Because the Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands — more than 2,000 of them inhabited, with their own local authorities and infrastructures — it typically takes two to three days for full reports to reach rescue agencies.
CREDIT: Eric Baculinao and Alastair Jamieson, NBC News. Alastair Jamieson reported from London. NBC News' Alex M. Johnson, Becky Bratu, Simon Moya-Smith and the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.