Manila: Philippine emergency workers were struggling on Tuesday to reach coastal villages on an island hardest hit by a typhoon where thousands of homes have been wrecked, suggesting the Red Cross`s estimated death toll of 27 may rise.
Nearly 13,000 houses were crushed and more than 22,300 damaged on the eastern island of Samar, where Typhoon Hagupit made landfall on Saturday and made slow progress across the country, officials said.
The storm, one of several typhoons to hit the tropical archipelago each year, has since been downgraded to a tropical storm and was headed west towards Vietnam.
Roofs were ripped from houses, wooden huts were reduced to matchwood and coconut trees torn up by the roots. Most of the victims, on Samar and in Iloilo province to the west, were washed away in floods and some hit by fallen trees, the Philippine Red Cross said.
The official government death toll is only three.
"Access is very difficult. There are landslides, some are one-lane roads. In the inner barangays (villages), many of the roads have been washed out by flash floods," Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said.
"...It`s a long trek (to the villages), it`s like Yolanda all over again," Gordon said, referring to super typhoon Haiyan, which hit the same area of the central Philippines last year.
But the damage was nowhere near that wrought by Haiyan, which destroyed or damaged more than a million homes.
Learning lessons from Haiyan, which left more than 7,000 dead or missing, authorities launched a massive evacuation operation days ahead of the storm, emptying whole towns and villages.
Bank employee Arnalyn Bula told Reuters how howling winds had pounded the walls of her aunt`s two-storey concrete home in Dolores in Eastern Samar, where her family sought shelter.
"Our kitchen was wrecked. Around us, our neighbours` homes were flattened like folded paper," said Bula, 27.
Some residents in Dolores hung signs that read "help us" as they appealed for food, water and shelter.
"We were inside an evacuation site when the roof caved in," a woman told local radio. "God saved us. There were no casualties. There will still be Christmas for us."
President Benigno Aquino decided to skip the annual summit of Southeast Asian countries and South Korea on Thursday to focus on the cleanup.
The National Grid Corp said nearly two million homes across the central Philippines and the south of the main island of Luzon were still without power.
Domestic air and sea travel resumed, markets reopened and state workers returned to their offices. Some shopping malls were operating on emergency power but schools remained closed for a second day.
Thousands of people emerged from shelters to fix wrecked homes and clean up debris, including fallen trees and power poles. Aid trucks were reaching some of the hardest-hit areas after soldiers reopened roads.
General Gregorio Catapang, head of the armed forces, said two C130 planes were taking in food, water and relief supplies.