Unconfirmed reports suggest at least 10,000 people are dead in the central Philippines province of Leyte after Typhoon Haiyan hit the region.
A senior police official says about 70 to 80 per cent of the province was destroyed by the super storm, one of the most powerful on record.
"We had a meeting last night with the governor and the other officials," said regional police director, Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria.
"The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died."
Witnesses and officials described chaotic scenes in Leyte's capital Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 about 580 kilometres south-east of Manila, with hundreds of bodies piled on the sides of roads and pinned under wrecked houses.
The Red Cross had earlier estimated more than 1,000 people had been killed across the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon, one of the most powerful to make landfall on record.
Among the dead is former Australian priest Kevin Lee, who had been a .
It is believed the 50-year-old had been living in the Philippines with his Filipino wife and they had just had their first child.
Last year Mr Lee was removed from his parish responsibilities in western Sydney after admitting to marrying in secret.
He spoke out about abuse in the Catholic Church in , which aired on ABC1 last year.
Mr Lee also wrote a book about the abuse he became aware of during his time as a priest, but it was only posted online rather than published because some of the accused are yet to face court.
Vietnam braces for super typhoon
A much weaker Haiyan is now bearing down on Vietnam, where more than 600,000 people have been evacuated.
The typhoon is expected to make landfall tomorrow morning after changing course, which has prompted mass evacuations in northern Nghe An province about 230 kilometres from the capital Hanoi.
However, many of the estimated 200,000 evacuated in four central provinces on Saturday have been allowed to return to their homes.
Haiyan "is quickly moving north and north-west, travelling at a speed of up to 35 kilometres per hour", the country's weather bureau said in a statement.
The weather system has weakened over the South China Sea and is expected to hit as a weaker category one storm, meteorologists added.
The typhoon's epicentre is expected to make landfall around 7am Monday local time (11am Monday AEDT), with winds of more than 70 kilometres per hour.
Preparations for Typhoon Haiyan have already claimed four lives in Vietnam, according to aid organisation CARE.
"Four deaths have been reported because of the preparatory work, that people were fixing their roofs and they fell off," said CARE's country director Claudia Futterknecht.
Director of Oxfam in Vietnam, Andy Baker, says the government is issuing mobile phone alerts to keep people updated about the typhoon's progress.
"In Hanoi at the moment we have got rain showers but no wind to speak of as yet. We have heard that in other parts of the country, there are very strong winds and high levels of rainfall," he said.
"[The typhoon] is running parallel to the coast already and will be for most of today.
"People don't seem to be particularly concerned or worried but that may change as the storm hits."
Englishman Peter Rosenfeld is in a hotel in the east coast city of Da Nang, which is a popular tourist spot.
He says buildings there have been boarded up with whatever material is at hand to prepare for the storm.
"The streets are completely deserted and there are ... bin bags blasting down the streets at the moment that suggest the winds are getting up," he said.
Philippines assesses damage
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines have been displaced and aid agencies are struggling to reach the worst-affected areas.
The Philippines' interior secretary, Mar Roxas, has been visiting coastal towns in Leyte to oversee relief efforts.
"The devastation is... I don't have the words for it," he said.
"It's really horrific, it's a great human tragedy. There's no power, there's no light.
"By the time the sun sets, it's dark, and you're just going to have to make your way to where you can find some shelter."
Mr Roxas says authorities are working to make sure people have access to the essentials.
"We're opening as many stores as we can so that people can have access to food," he said.
"There is some looting that is going on. We've deployed the army and PNP as much as we can and we're trying to secure power and water which are basics."
Destruction hampering relief efforts
The Philippines military has begun relief efforts, but aid agencies are struggling to reach the worst-affected areas.
The airport has been badly damaged and only military flights are operating.
Two Australian disaster experts are on the ground in the Philippines, with the Australian Government saying it is ready to provide further assistance if required.
The Government will initially provide about $390,000 in emergency relief supplies to assist communities.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says the money will go towards sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, water containers and general health kits.
Charity organisation World Vision is aiding recovery and 37 of its own staff have had their homes destroyed.
Kate Rose from World Vision's emergency response team says the organisation is trying to reach 1.2 million displaced people to give them shelter, and kits containing food and clean water.
She says crews are on standby in Vietnam and Laos, which are in the path of the devastating storm.
Ms Rose says the organisation is also seeking help from Australians.
"World Vision is certainly looking for any help the community can give us for this event," she said.
"The cost of cleaning up, of restoring people's homes, of trying to bring families back together is going to be massive."
Oxfam is also assessing what assistance can be provided.
Chief executive Helen Szoke says a team of experts has been sent into some of the poorest areas to assess water, public health and sanitation needs.
"We're focusing on the area of Bohol and also the northern Sebu and north and eastern Samar areas," she said.
"So we're on the ground, we are actually looking to see what the needs are of people so that we can start to bring in assistance.
The Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Australians travelling in the Philippines and Vietnam should monitor local media for information on local safety arrangements and latest weather reports.
DFAT says the storm is also likely to cause disruption to essential services and infrastructure, potentially causing disruption to travel plans.
It advises Australians to review and follow hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans.
It also says Australians should carry their travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location.
© ABC 2013
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