The central Philippine city of Tacloban was in ruins Saturday, a day after being ravaged by one of the strongest typhoons on record, as horrified residents spoke of storm surges as high as trees and authorities said they were expecting a "very high number of fatalities."
At least 138 people were confirmed dead in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. But Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang said that agency field staff in the region estimated the toll was about 1,000. Pang, however, emphasized that it was "just an estimate."
The typhoon has hit close to home for Filipinos living in Southern California.
Jeffrey Ilagan is associate pastor at the Filipino Disciples Christian Church in L.A. His wife Bethany and their three young children are in the Philippines. Although they're several hundred miles north of the areas that were hardest hit, they've still experienced very strong winds.
Ilagan says his wife let him know via Skype that they're safe, although he says it's hard not to worry.
"Filipinos may be tough people, but of course we have emotions," he said. "You know it's very painful just to hear the stories from them because I am away from my family and these things happen. If only we (could) jump right over from 10,000 miles away to there, right away. It's not easy. It's very hard."
The typhoon slammed into six central Philippine islands on Friday, wiping away buildings and leveling seaside homes. At least 118 of the confirmed deaths were on hardest-hit Leyte Island, where Tacloban is located, said national disaster agency spokesman Maj. Reynaldo Balido.
But after arriving in Tacloban on Saturday, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said it was too early to know how many people had died in the storm, which was heading toward Vietnam after moving away from the Philippines.
"The rescue operation is ongoing. We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured," Roxas said. "All systems, all vestiges of modern living — communications, power, water — all are down. Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people in a mass sort of way."
The Filipino Disciples Christian Church in L.A. will offer prayer for typhoon victims at its Sunday services. It will also have a special collection for typhoon relief donations. Church leaders are planning additional fundraisers in the upcoming weeks. You can donate online here.