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1,200 believed dead in Philippine typhoon (Updated)


MANILA, Nov 09, 2013 (AFP) - About 1,200 people are believed to have died when one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded hit the Philippines, the head of the local Red Cross said on Saturday.

Philippine Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang said the figure of 1,200 was an estimate, with authorities yet to get an accurate assessment from many devastated communities.

"It's an estimate. Somebody else has to do the counting," Pang told AFP.

Earlier report:

MANILA, Nov 09, 2013 (AFP) - More than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of a Philippine city smashed by Super Typhoon Haiyan, authorities said Saturday, as soldiers raced to reach many other devastated communities.

Haiyan tore into the eastern islands of Leyte and Samar on Friday with sustained winds of around 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most intense ever to make landfall.

Most of the worst-hit areas were cut off from communications throughout Friday, with power and telephone networks destroyed, and the first reports that began to emerge after daybreak on Saturday painted a deeply ominous picture.

In Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, the city's airport manager reported seeing more than 100 bodies littered around the facility, with at least 100 more people injured.

"The terminal, the tower, including communication equipment, were destroyed," Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines deputy chief John Andrews told AFP, as he recounted the airport manager's assessment.

The military began flying C-130 planes full of relief supplies to Tacloban, which has a population of 220,000 people, on Saturday morning.

Andrews said the deaths were likely caused by huge waves whipped up by the typhoon, with the airport and surrounding areas lying alongside the coast.

A journalist for local television network GMA also reported seeing about 20 bodies piled up in a church in Palo, a coastal town about 10 kilometres south of Tacloban. 

Fears of mass casualties

The initial reports from Tacloban and Palo raised fears of mass casualties, with Haiyan having devastated many other communities across the central Philippines that remained cut off from communications.

"We have reports of collapsed buildings, houses flattened to the ground, storm surges and landslides," Philippine Red Cross chief Gwendolyn Pang told AFP, giving an assessment across the whole region.

"But we don't know really, we can't say how bad the damage is... hopefully today we can get a better picture as to the effects of the super typhoon."

The government, military and Red Cross said one of their top priorities was trying to re-establish contact or reach communities in Leyte and Samar.

Fifteen thousand soldiers had been deployed to the disaster zones, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

"We are flying sorties to bring relief goods, materials and communication equipment," Zagala said.

He said helicopters were also flying rescuers into priority areas, while infantry units deployed across the affected areas were also proceeding on foot or in military trucks.

Haiyan swept across the central and southern Philippines throughout Friday before exiting into the South China Sea and tracking towards Vietnam.

More than four million people were affected across 36 provinces, the government said.

Another area of particular concern was Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people on Samar that was the first to be hit after Haiyan swept in from the Pacific Ocean. The Red Cross's Pang said contact had not yet been made with Guiuan.

Pang also expressed concern for people in the province of Capiz, about 200 kilometres west of Tacloban, on Panay island where she said most of the region's infrastructure had been destroyed and many houses "flattened to the ground".

At least three more people were killed in the far southwestern province of Palawan, ABS-CBN reported, citing a local disaster official.

Authorities expressed confidence on Friday that only a few people had been killed, citing two-days of intense preparation efforts led by President Benigno Aquino.

Nearly 800,000 people in vulnerable areas had been moved to evacuation centres, while thousands of boats across the archipelago were ordered to remain secured at ports. Hundreds of flights were also cancelled.

The government expressed alarm on Saturday about the unfolding scale of the disaster.

"We are very concerned about the situation there," Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras told reporters, when asked about the deaths in and around Tacloban.

"The president is asking why there were still fatalities."

An average of 20 major storms or typhoons, many of them deadly, batter the Philippines each year.

The developing country is particularly vulnerable because it is often the first major landmass for the storms after they build over the Pacific Ocean.

The Philippines suffered the world's strongest storm of 2012, when Typhoon Bopha left about 2,000 people dead or missing on the southern island of Mindanao.

NTU don makes objects vanish with 'invisibility cloak'


IT might seem like a magic show performed by legendary illusionist Harry Houdini but a Singapore-based scientist and his team have managed to create an "invisibility cloak" that can make objects and even small animals such as cats disappear.

Believed to be the first of its kind, the research in this area by a team led by Dr Zhang Baile, a Singaporean permanent resident, was published two weeks ago in Nature Communications, one of the top science journals.

Using carefully angled blocks of glass to form a wall around an empty core, light is bent around an object – or living creature – placed in the centre. The object then appears to be "invisible", allowing the viewer to see only what's behind the glass "cloak".

While the research is still at an early stage, the light-bending technology behind the glass "cloak" may have useful applications in security and defence, such as in developing military surveillance equipment.

"It is not quite like Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility because this is not an actual cloak that you can wrap around you yet – it's a glass structure but you can 'see through' an object placed in the centre in a natural environment," said Dr Zhang, assistant physics professor at the Nanyang Technological University.

The 32-year-old Dr Zhang collaborated with six other scientists, including members of Zhejiang University in China and Marvell Technology Group Boston, over the last three years to come up with the innovation, which was showcased for the first time in Singapore yesterday.

With the capability to function in open air, it is a significant improvement over his previous prototype, made of a colourless crystalline mineral called calcite, which can only make an object "invisible" in a liquid called laser oil.

Even then, Dr Zhang's earlier work had already put him on the list of the world's top 35 innovators under the age of 35 compiled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review magazine in August last year.

While he is pleased with the progress so far, Dr Zhang admitted that the research is "still far away from actual applications".

The "cloak" as it is now still suffers from several limitations: It can make things invisible only when viewed from up to six specific directions, although the team is working to make it omni-directional. It is also a bulky construct that is difficult to move around.

"It's progress but it's not particularly revolutionary, it's not true invisibility if it only works from six directions," said Professor John Pendry, the chair in theoretical solid state physics at the Imperial College of London whose work in cloaking objects in electromagnetic fields is the basis of Dr Zhang's initial research.

"Cloaks are very useful things for... stealth or security, so when they get it omni-directional, I shall be impressed." — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network


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