While it was unclear if the power of the storm was tied to climate change, the surge may serve as another reminder to low-lying cities of the need to prepare for the worst.
President Aquino had urged residents to leave low-lying areas, but he did not order an evacuation. On Sunday, he toured some stricken areas and declared a “state of calamity,” a first step in the release of emergency money from the government.
As the president arrived in Tacloban to meet with victims of the storm and to coordinate rescue and cleanup efforts, his defense secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, described the chaos in the city of 220,000.
“There is no power, no water, nothing,” Mr. Gazmin said. “People are desperate.”
Lynette Lim, a spokeswoman for Save the Children, weathered the storm in a local government office in Tacloban before leaving the city on a military aircraft Sunday morning. She said that even schools, gymnasiums and other sites that the local government had designated as evacuation centers had failed to hold up against the powerful winds.
“The roofs had been ripped off, the windows had shattered, and sometimes the ceilings had caved in,” Ms. Lim said in a telephone interview from Manila.
Poor neighborhoods fared especially badly, with virtually no structures left standing except for a few government buildings. With no police officers in sight on Sunday morning, Ms. Lim said, people had begun grabbing food and other items off pharmacy and grocery store shelves.
Video from Tacloban on ABS-CBN television showed scores of people entering stores and stuffing suitcases and bags with clothing and housewares. One photo showed a man holding a gun protecting his store.
News reports from Tacloban told of how officials were unable to get an accurate death count because law enforcement and government personnel could not be found after the storm. Tacloban’s mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez, was reported to have been “holding on to his roof” before being rescued, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
By Monday, the weakened typhoon had made landfall in Vietnam, according to the Hong Kong Observatory, but it was too early to assess the damage.
International aid agencies and foreign governments sent emergency teams to the Philippines. At the request of the Philippine government, the United States defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, ordered the deployment of ships and aircraft to deliver supplies and help in the search-and-rescue efforts, the Defense Department said. The United States Embassy in Manila made $100,000 immediately available for health and sanitation efforts, according to its Twitter feed.
President Obama issued a statement on Sunday that said he expected “the incredible resiliency of the Philippine people” to help the country, an American ally, through the trauma. He said the United States also stood ready to assist the government’s relief and recovery efforts.
On Sunday, about 90 American Marines and sailors based in Okinawa, Japan, landed in the Philippines as part of an advance team assessing the disaster to determine what the Pentagon might need to help in relief efforts.
According to Colonel Brad Bartlet, a Marine spokesman, the team has made requests for C-130 cargo airplanes, MV-22 Osprey helicopters and other aircraft to participate in search and recovery at sea. The Navy has also sent two P-3 Orion surveillance planes, which are often used during natural disasters to patrol the seas in search of survivors stranded in ships and boats.
Mar Roxas, the Philippine interior minister, said that while relief supplies were beginning to reach the Tacloban airport, they could go no farther because debris was blocking the roads in the area.
“The entire airport was under water up to roof level,” Mr. Roxas said, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Speaking to reporters in Tacloban, he added, “The devastation here is absolute.”
Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Philippines, said he was concerned that the damage reports seemed to be mainly from Tacloban, where aid has so far been concentrated, and not from the many fishing communities that line the coast.
“The coastal areas can be quite vulnerable — in many cases, you have fishing communities right up to the shoreline, and they can be wiped out” by a powerful storm surge, he said. “The disturbing reports are the lack of reports, and the areas that are cut off could be quite severely hit.”
Across Cebu province, 43 people were killed, 111 were injured and five are missing, said Wilson Ramos, the deputy disaster management officer for Cebu. The authorities were trying to conduct aerial surveys of the area directly hit by the storm’s center, particularly the town of Daanbantayan and Bantayan Island, Mr. Ramos said.
“We are very tired already,” he said in the province’s disaster offices. “But we hope to send relief to those affected.”
Residents of Cebu, one of the country’s largest cities, said many roads to the north of Cebu Island were still closed after towns there suffered heavy damage, although the city was spared the brunt of the storm.
“It was very loud, like a train,” said Ranulfo L. Manatad, a night watchman at a street market in Mandaue City, on the northern outskirts of Cebu.
In Mabolo, another town on the northern flank of Cebu, the winds toppled a locally famous tree with a trunk roughly a yard in diameter. The tree had withstood every typhoon for more than a century.
Reporting was contributed by Gerry Mullany from Hong Kong, Floyd Whaley from Iloilo, Philippines, Austin Ramzy from Cebu, Mark Mazzetti from Washington, and Alan Feuer from New York.