It is estimated that 4.3 million people have been affected by the disaster, which was caused by winds reaching speeds of up to 235mph.
The United Nations said the devastation is comparable to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Last night, Vietnam was braced to be battered by the typhoon as it swept north-west.
Many of the dead in the country’s deadliest storm are thought to have drowned in 20ft high storm surges resembling a tsunami, which swept away homes, schools and other buildings on Friday.
The ferocious winds also caused landslides, burying people under rubble and knocking out power and communications.
Corpses hung from tree branches and were scattered along pavements, while looters raided shops and petrol stations in search of food, fuel and water.
There are feared to have been 10,000 deaths in the city of Tacloban alone, about half-way down the east coast of the string of Philippine islands, and many more elsewhere. Tacloban lies in a cove where the sea narrows, making it susceptible to storm surges.
The winds were so strong that residents who sought shelter in a school tied down the building’s roof, but it was ripped off anyway and the building collapsed.
The city’s airport was all but destroyed after sea water levelled the terminal, shattered windows in the control tower and overturned vehicles.
The flooding reached half-a-mile inland in the city of 200,000, leaving floating bodies and tangled power lines.
Hundreds of bodies were piled at roadsides or pinned under wrecked houses.
The interior secretary, Manuel Roxas, said: “From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometre inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami.
“I don’t know how to describe what I saw. It’s horrific. All systems, all vestiges of modern living – communications, power, water – all are down.”
The UN said more than 331,000 survivors are in 1,200 evacuation centres in the Philippines. Nearly 800,000 had been rushed to safety before the typhoon struck.
A total of 300 soldiers and police have been deployed to the city to restore order following the widespread looting.
A state of emergency or martial law is also being considered, by the government.
Reports trickled in from elsewhere on Leyte and neighbouring islands of hundreds, if not thousands more deaths.
On Samar to the north, Leo Dacaynos, of the provincial disaster office, said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were believed to be missing, Officials expect the death toll to rise when emergency crews reach cut-off areas.
Guiuan, on Samar’s east coast – where the typhoon first hit – was devastated, with many houses flattened and roads strewn with debris and uprooted trees.
In Cebu, west of Leyte, one of the four other worst-hit islands, an Oxfam team said nearly every building in Daanbantayan, on its northern tip, had been damaged.
Children were seen begging for help, holding up signs that read: “Help. We need water, food and medicines.”
Tata Abella-Bolo, a member of Oxfam’s emergency team, said: “The scene is one of utter devastation. There is no electricity in the entire area and no water.
“Local emergency food stocks have been distributed but stocks are dwindling. The immediate need is water, both for drinking and for cleaning.”
On the island of Mindoro, to the north west, Baco, a city of 35,000 people, was 80 per cent under water. South of Mindoro, 6,000 people were stranded on the resort island of Boracay.
Vice-mayor Jim Pe, of Coron town on Busuanga, the last island battered by the typhoon before it blew away into the South China Sea, said most of the houses and buildings there had been destroyed or damaged. He said five people had drowned in the storm surge and three others were missing.
Carin van der Hor, of the international development org-anisation, Plan, told of the “unimaginable” level of destruction.
She said: “There are now thousands of families in evacuation centres who have been forced out of their homes and are in desperate need of shelter, clean water and medicine.
“It’s also vital that debris is cleared to make roads passable and that communication is restored as soon as possible.
“This is a disaster of the highest magnitude that is potentially the worst natural disaster the country has ever experienced.
“The people of the Philippines endure a cycle of typhoons, floods, earthquakes and landslides, but we haven’t seen anything as ferocious as this typhoon before.”
Defence chief Voltaire Gazmin defended the government’s preparations for the storm. He said: “How can you beat that typhoon? It’s the strongest on Earth. We’ve done everything we can.”
Prime Minister David Cameron phoned the Philippines president, Benigno Aquino III, to offer the UK’s full support.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister said that our thoughts
are with all those affected, especially those who have lost loved ones.
“This weekend we announced a package of £6 million emergency humanitarian support to help more than 500,000 people affected by the storm.
“We have also sent four humanitarian experts to the Philippines to assist three advisers already in the country helping to co-ordinate the international response.”
Pope Francis yesterday led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican in prayers for those affected by the typhoon in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
He said: “I wish to express my closeness to the people of the Philippines and of that region. Unfortunately, there are many victims and the damage is enormous.
“We pray now in silence … for our brothers and sisters, and we will seek to also send concrete help.”
The United States yesterday sent some 90 US marines and sailors to the Philippines in the first wave of promised military assistance.
Defence secretary Chuck Hagel ordered Pacific Command to assist with search and rescue operations and provide air support from bases in Japan.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso sent Mr Aquino a message which stated: “We stand ready to contribute with urgent relief and assistance if so required in this hour of need.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences.
In Vietnam, about 600,000 people in the central region who had been evacuated returned home yesterday after the weakened storm changed direction and took aim at the country’s north.
The typhoon appears to have killed many more people than the previous deadliest Philippine storm, Thelma, in which about 5,100 died in 1991.
Scot flies out to help set up Red Cross base
A Scot is among four British Red Cross staff who flew to the Philippines last night to help set up an aid base.
Their deployment came as the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group of 14 charities, is poised to launch a UK-wide appeal.
Aid worker Katie Martin, from Paisley, is part of a logistics team who will join other Red Cross staff in establishing a warehouse to distribute aid. Equipment and communications from Britain will also be flown in over the next two days.
Ms Martin, 31, is a Glasgow-based community fundraiser for the British Red Cross who has received specialist training for her first such mission.
She said: “The conditions in the Philippines are dreadful, but we won’t know exactly what we’re facing till we get there. We don’t even know what sort of accommodation we’ll have, so we’re taking tents with us.
“The scale of the devastation caused by the typhoon is massive and it’s absolutely vital that the people get the aid they need as quickly as possible.
“This is my first international duty, so I’m quite apprehensive. But this is what I’ve trained for and I just want to do everything I can to help the people of the Philippines.”
However, the Philippines Red Cross said its efforts were being hampered by looters, who had attacked its food and relief supply lorries.
The UK Department for International Development is providing £5 million to aid agencies for temporary shelters and access to clean water.
Plastic sheeting for shelters and household items such as kitchen sets and blankets from the UK’s stockpile of humanitarian items is part of a £600,000 British shipment of emergency equipment.
Unicef’s supply division in Copenhagen is loading 60 tonnes of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive tomorrow. The World Food Programme said it was airlifting 40 tonnes of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed 120,000 people for a day, as well as emergency supplies and communications equipment.
Analysis ‘Perfect conditions’ for creating a super-storm
Warmer than normal water, light winds and no land for miles were the superficially benevolent ingredients that enabled Typhoon Haiyan to develop into the world’s most powerful storms.
A weather expert said the combination of these factors over a long period produced atmospheric conditions conducive to creating the mega-strength typhoon which unleashed gusts of up to 235mph on the Philippines.
Paul Knightley, a forecast manager at the MeteoGroup, said: “It might seem perverse, but unlike storms in the UK, which involve strong winds
and the jetstream, tropical storms are quite delicate, and need very light winds to be able to form.
“Haiyan developed because of a very warm sea surface, above the normal 26-27C, producing very warm, humid air which met colder air in the upper atmosphere, which generated thunderstorms.
“The storm then moved fairly quickly – at 25-30mph rather than the normal 10-15mph – so there was less chance for the cooler sea it moved over to dissipate its strength.
“It also formed far out in the Pacific Ocean, so had longer to build up before hitting land.
“These were the perfect development conditions over several days.
“Rarely do you see a perfect situation like this, but once in a while all the conditions line up exactly.
“Violent storms of this intensity have happened before, but as the Pacific is huge, most of them have not reached land.
“The unusual thing about Haiyan is that it reached this strength and made landfall – which is more unusual that its intensity alone.
“Eventually it consolidated into a tropical storm, then into a typhoon and a super typhoon.”
Mr Knightley said higher-than-normal sea temperatures caused thunderstorms by water evaporating and then condensing in the atmosphere, which released heat and creating towering thunderclouds.
This was then converted to kinetic energy, causing winds to strengthen.
He said: “Just like a more powerful engine makes a car go faster, warmer seas create more powerful storms because they produce more heat energy.”
About 20 typhoons a year hit the sprawling archipelago of the Philippines. The country of more than 7,000 islands is subjected to more storms each year than any other nation.
It is often the first to be battered by storms that eventually hit Vietnam and China to the west, and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan to the north.
The country is also located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.