Super Typhoon Haiyan: 'It is like a tsunami has hit'

Story highlights

  • Paula Hancocks are crew are the first international news team to reach Tacloban
  • Hancocks: Debris and destruction everywhere
  • Relief efforts are at an early stage
  • Roads are inaccessible, hard for authorities to gauge full impact of storm

"It is like a tsunami has hit here."

These were the first words from CNN's Paula Hancocks, as she arrived in the storm-battered eastern city of Tacloban on board a military transport plane.

Leading the first international news team into this part of the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan -- one of the strongest storms ever recorded to hit land -- Hancocks and crew hitched a ride from Manila with the country's military, along with members of the World Food Program, the United Nations, local media and a load of food aid.

This is her first account of the scenes she witnessed:

The damage in Tacloban looks almost identical to that caused by a tsunami. As we were flying over the area, it was quite clear there was a lot of water and a lot of destruction. The area is flooded and everything I can see has been damaged.

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The sheer devastation and debris is something I have seen from tsunamis -- I haven't seen damage of this magnitude from a typhoon before. Every single tree is either flattened or broken off and stripped bare. This damage to the trees alone shows the strength of the winds.

Officials tell me the storm surge came as high as the second story of the terminal building here and it clearly has devastated the structure. What was once inside the building is now strewn outside.

Paula Hancocks on the scene
Paula Hancocks on the scene

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    Paula Hancocks on the scene

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Paula Hancocks on the scene 02:17

Helicopters are taking off from the airfield -- this looks like it is becoming a staging point for the relief effort. It is hard to get a gauge right now on just how many casualties or how much damage the storm has caused here and across the country.

In Tacloban, all the power lines are down and the airfield itself is badly damaged. The military and the U.N. are looking for where they should set up areas where residents can come to get assistance. This is the initial phase of the relief efforts.

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There are a lot of residents wandering around looking lost -- they look like they're not sure what they should be doing. It is difficult to know how many people will come to this area. The roads are inaccessible and completely cut off. There is barely a tree in its entirety standing, blocking roads. People are coming to the terminal area as they believe this is where food and water and first aid will be administered.

The head of the World Food Program told me what they have to do in the first few hours is figure out what they can do -- figure out the lay of the land, where they can get to, where they can't get to and that will take some time.

And that is also a major task facing the military -- getting to the areas they need to get to. It is going to take heavy machinery and a lot of work before they can reach those who need help.

The first challenge will be providing food and water as well as shelter.

A couple of residents have approached me. One, a young man with his baby daughter looked very shell-shocked and very shaken up. He was waiting for some medical treatment. The medical facilities at this point are very rudimentary but that will change in the coming hours.

I have also had many people wave and smile at me. They are familiar with typhoons -- this country sees more than 20 typhoons each year but not at the level or scale brought on by this storm.

Among the tasks facing relief workers is bringing in food for these people. Food and water are the main issue facing residents. I can see the military right now carrying in tents to certain areas -- for medical purposes or to provide shelter.

There are some structures that remain intact but they look very dangerous in themselves. Twisted and unstable -- it is not an ideal situation for people to shelter but there are no alternatives right now.

Are you in the affected area? Send us your images and video but please stay safe