Race to reach Philippine typhoon disaster zones

MANILA - Thousands of Philippine soldiers raced Saturday to reach isolated communities that were devastated by one of the strongest typhoons on record, as reports emerged of corpses lining roads and people swept out to sea.

Five people have been confirmed killed after Super Typhoon Haiyan ripped across the Philippines on Friday, but authorities said they still had no idea how many people had died with many towns and villages still cut off from communications.

"We have reports of collapsed buildings, houses flattened to the ground, storm surges and landslides," Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told AFP.

"But we don't know really, we can't say how bad the damage is... hopefully today we can get a better picture as to the effects of the super typhoon."

Haiyan smashed into the eastern provinces of Leyte and Samar with maximum sustained winds of around 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most intense ever to make landfall.

It swept across the central and southern Philippines throughout the day before exiting into the South China Sea and tracking towards Vietnam.

The Red Cross said its confirmed death toll was five, while the government's disaster management council said it had tallied four dead plus four missing.

The government, military and Red Cross said one of their top priorities was trying to re-establish contact or reach communities in Leyte and Samar, two regions that were hit when the typhoon was at its strongest.

The military began flying C-130 planes full of relief supplies to Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, on Saturday morning, amid fears the city of more than 220,000 people and surrounding areas had been devastated.

A journalist for a local television network GMA reported seeing dozens of bodies lined up along roads and piled up in a church in the city and also in the neighbouring coastal town of Palo.

The area was believed to have been hit by huge storm surges while GMA said residents had reported 11 people being swept out to sea in Tacloban.

Asked about the damage in Tacloban, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said they were bracing for the worst.

"It's difficult to say exactly what happened there. It was very bad. There are reports that there were people dead because of the surge," Almendras told reporters in Manila.

"We are very concerned about the situation there."

Meanwhile, 15,000 soldiers had been deployed to the disaster zones, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

"We are flying sorties to bring relief goods, materials and communication equipment," Zagala said.

He said helicopters were also flying rescuers into priority areas, while infantry units deployed across the affected areas were also proceeding there on foot or in military trucks.

An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, batter the Philippines each year.

The developing country is particularly vulnerable because it is often the first major landmass for the storms after they build over the Pacific Ocean.

The Philippines suffered the world's strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.