Typhoon-ravaged Philippine islands faced a daunting relief effort that had barely begun Monday, as bloated bodies lay uncollected and uncounted in the streets and survivors pleaded for food, water and medicine.

Police guarded stores to prevent people from hauling off food, water and such non-essentials as TVs and treadmills, but there was often no one to carry away the dead — not even those seen along the main road from the airport to Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country's remote eastern seaboard.

At a small naval base, eight bloated corpses — including that of a baby — were submerged in sea water brought in by the storm. Officers there had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them.

Two officials said Sunday that Friday's typhoon may have killed 10,000 or more people, but with the slow pace of recovery, the official death toll remained well below that. The Philippine military confirmed 942 dead, but shattered communications, transportation links and local governments suggest the final toll is days away.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said "we pray" that the death toll is less than 10,000.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Prime Minister Stephen Harper has directed that Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team  — an arm of the Canadian Forces that provides humanitarian aid — will deploy to the Philippines.

Baird said an eight-member advance team will arrive in the typhoon zone in coming hours, while another 35 to 50 personnel will leave Monday night on a C-17 from CFB Trenton with much of their equipment. 

Among the missing

Four people from Montreal are among the missing.

Sisters Cristita Magno and Virginia Magno Garcia, along with their husbands Amancio Allana and Valdomar Garcia, have not been heard from since Thursday. The Magno sisters and Allana are in their 60s, while Garcia is 75 years old.

The group travelled there in September to build a chapel in Bungtod, the village where the sisters were born and where hundreds of the Magno family’s relatives live. 

Arwin Allana, the son of Cristita Magno and Amancio Allana, said from Montreal that he last spoke to his parents on Thursday.

"They were definitely worried because when I spoke to them it was a little bit choppy on the line because the typhoon was near to their area," he said, adding that his parents had been due to fly to Manila, but their flight had been cancelled due to the weather.

A spokesman for Baird said Foreign Affairs is aware of roughly 1,400 Canadians registered as being in the Philippines, although that figure could change as many people don't register with the embassy when they travel to the country.

Foreign Affairs has received about 175 phone calls regarding Canadians in the Philippines, but there have not been any reports of Canadian fatalities at this time.

Every building destroyed

The city of Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, punctuated only by a few concrete buildings that remained standing.

"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way — every single building, every single house," U.S. marine Brig.-Gen. Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over the city. He spoke on the tarmac at the airport, where two marine C-130 cargo planes were parked, engines running, unloading supplies.

Authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, which is called Yolanda in the Philippines but is known as Haiyan elsewhere in Asia. It's one of the most powerful recorded typhoons to ever hit land and likely the deadliest natural disaster to beset this poor Southeast Asian nation.

Philippine soldiers were distributing food and water in Tacloban, and assessment teams from the United Nations and other international agencies were seen for the first time. The U.S. military dispatched food, water, generators and a contingent of marines to the city, the first outside help in what will swell into a major international relief mission.

Canada to match donations

Among countries working on helping the Philippines is Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted that he had spoken with Filipino President Benigno Aquino III on Monday morning. He said Canada is ready to offer "additional assistance" after announcing Sunday that it would offer up to $5 million in aid for the relief effort.

Philippines Typhoon

Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at the airport in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban in the Philippines. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

Minister of International Development Christian Paradis has said that Ottawa will also match each dollar donated by Canadians to registered Canadian charities for the Philippines Crisis Matching Fund.

Donations will be accepted until Dec 8.

'Please tell my family I'm alive'

Authorities said they had evacuated some 800,000 people from their homes ahead of the typhoon, but some of the evacuation centres proved to be no protection against the wind and rising water.

"Please tell my family I'm alive," said Erika Mae Karakot, a survivor on Tacloban's Leyte island, as she lined up for aid. "We need water and medicine because a lot of the people we are with are wounded. Some are suffering from diarrhea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water."

The Philippine National Red Cross, responsible for warning the region and giving advice, said people were not prepared for a storm surge.

Preliminary death toll

  • Leyte: Up to 10,000 feared dead, with an undetermined number of missing. Widespread severe damage. Communications, transport cut in many areas.
  • Samar: 400 dead, 2,000 missing.
  • Eastern Samar: 135 dead.
  • Cebu: 58 dead.
  • Iloilo: 48 dead.
  • Capiz: 24 dead, 1 missing.
  • Aklan: 5 dead.
  • Antique: 4 dead, 8 missing.

"Imagine America, which was prepared and very rich, still had a lot of challenges at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but what we had was three times more than what they received," said Gwendolyn Pang, the group's executive director.

Emily Ortega, 21 and about to give birth, was among those who had thought she was safe. But the evacuation centre she had fled to was devastated by the six-metre storm surge, and she had to swim and cling to a post to survive. She reached safety at the airport, where she gave birth to a baby girl. Bea Joy Sagales appeared in good health, and her arrival drew applause from others in the airport and military medics who assisted in the delivery.

The winds, rains and coastal storm surges transformed neighbourhoods into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Ships were tossed inland, cars and trucks swept out to sea and bridges and ports washed away.

"In some cases the devastation has been total," said Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras.

Hundreds of soldiers guarding town

Residents have stripped malls, shops and homes of food, water and consumer goods. Officials said some of the looting smacked of desperation but in other cases items taken included TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and a treadmill. An Associated Press reporter in the town said he saw around 400 special forces and soldiers patrolling downtown to guard against further chaos.

APTOPIX Philippines Typhoon

Houses in Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country's remote eastern seaboard, were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press)

Brig.-Gen. Kennedy said Philippine forces were handling security well, and that his forces were "looking at how to open up roads and land planes and helicopters. We got shelter coming in. [The U.S. Agency for International Development] is bringing in water and supplies."

Those caught in the storm were worried that aid would not arrive soon enough.

"We're afraid that it's going to get dangerous in town because relief goods are trickling in very slow," said Bobbie Womack, an American missionary and longtime Tacloban resident from Athens, Tenn. "I know it's a massive, massive undertaking to try to feed a town of over 150,000 people. They need to bring in shiploads of food."

Womack's husband, Larry, said he chose to stay at their beachside home, only to find the storm surge engulfing it. He survived by climbing onto a beam in the roof that stayed attached to a wall.

"The roof was lifting up and the wind was coming through and there were actual waves going over my head," he said. "The sound was loud. It was just incredible."

Other relief efforts

  • Australia announced assistance of 10 million Australian dollars ($9.4 million US). That includes the deployment of an emergency medical team, aid to the UN Flash Appeal and aid to Australian non-governmental organizations for immediate life-saving assistance.
  • The United Nations World Food Program said it has allocated $2 million for the disaster response and officials joined an assessment mission to survey damage in Leyte and Samar provinces. It asks for donations at www.wfpusa.org.
  • UNICEF said its staff in the Philippines is being repositioned to help in relief efforts and emergency supplies are being sent from Copenhagen. An airlift set to arrive on Tuesday will include water purification systems, storage equipment and sanitation supplies. Donations can be made to UNICEF at unicef.ca/haiyan.
  • Japan will fly a 25-member relief team of mostly medical staff.
  • Taiwan said it will send $200,000 in aid to help with relief efforts.
  • World Vision said it is putting together resources to assist 1.2 million people, including food, hygiene kits, emergency shelter and protection. It asked for one-time donations to be made at worldvision.ca.
  • International Rescue Committee has dispatched an emergency team to Manila and launched a $10 million appeal. The IRC will work to determine which of its areas of expertise — from water and sanitation to education — are most needed.
  • Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans​ Frontières) said it has 15 staff in Cebu city and will send an additional 50 people in the next few days. It said it also is sending medical and relief supplies on three cargo planes. To donate, go to www.msf.ca/campaigns/typhoon-haiyan-relief-philippines/.

With files from CBC News