MANILA (CNN) -- More than 100 people were killed in a major Philippine coastal city that took the brunt of Super Typhoon Haiyan, authorities said Saturday.
That death toll in Tacloban was the first significant casualty report in a day when authorities began surveying the devastation of a typhoon that has been described as perhaps the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history.
Capt. John Andrews, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, told CNN that he received a radio report from the Tacloban airport station manager who said there are more than 100 bodies in the street in Tacloban and more than 100 people injured.
Traveling aboard a military cargo plane from Manila, CNN's Paula Hancocks was among the first journalists to see the catastrophe in Tacloban on Saturday.
"It looks as though a tsunami swept through here," she said by satellite phone.
The airport terminal was "completely destroyed," and shell-shocked Filipinos were gathering around the airport with the anticipation that the military was bringing food, water and medicine, Hancocks said.
Officials told her that the water surge reached the second story of structures, she said. There were at least two bodies at the airport, she added.
Every tree was flattened or snapped in half, and the timber landed on roads, blocking transportation, she said.
"You assume as you go inland you'll find more people who are injured or who have lost their lives," Hancocks said.
From the plane, she said, "you could see a lot of groundwater on the land itself, and pretty much every single tree was damaged.
"That showed the sheer force of the surge and the wind," she said. "On the ocean front, you can see the defenses were damaged."
Residents waded through waist-high water in the streets Saturday. Vehicles were turned over or piled on one another. Fallen utility poles were in the middle of roads.
Philippine officials feared the death toll would grow.
"Yes, we are worried about the eastern side, the Tacloban area," said Rene Almendras, secretary to the cabinet.
In a separate report earlier Saturday, as reports began coming in to authorities, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council indicated at least four people were killed. At least seven people were hurt, and four people were missing, the council also said Saturday.
The destruction is expected to be catastrophic. Storm clouds covered the entire Philippines, stretching 1,120 miles -- equal to a distance between Florida and Canada. The deadly wind field, or tropical storm force winds, covered an area the size of Montana or Germany.
The typhoon first roared onto the country's eastern island of Samar at 4:30 a.m. Friday, flooding streets and knocking out power and communications in many areas of the region of Eastern Visayas, and then continued its march, barreling into five other Philippine islands.
Then, predawn Saturday, it headed toward Vietnam. Haiyan weakened Saturday and was no longer a super typhoon, rather a typhoon with sustained winds of 130 mph. But the storm could return to super typhoon status Saturday. The center of Haiyan will land again Sunday morning near the Vietnamese cities of Da Nang and Hue.
Philippine military helicopters were scheduled to take aerial surveys of the damage Saturday. Relief agencies in Manila were expected to begin traveling as long as 18 hours to reach the worst hit isles. Meanwhile, Haiyan was over the South China Sea on Saturday.
While delivering 195 mph winds with gusts reaching even 235 mph, Haiyan first landed near Dulag and Tacloban, flooding those coastal communities with a surge of water rising 40 to 50 feet, said CNN's Chad Myers.
Tacloban is the largest city in the Eastern Visayan Islands and was an important Allied logistical base during World War II, even serving as a temporary capital of the Philippines. But on Saturday, Tacloban was considered as among the areas worst hit by Haiyan, and authorities and relief agencies had no immediate information about its condition.
For purposes of comparison, Super Typhoon Haiyan packed a wallop on Philippine structures 3.5 times more forceful than the United States's Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which directly or indirectly killed 1,833 people and was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history at $108 billion, Myers said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said America stood ready to help the Asian nation.
"Having so recently had my own visit to the Philippines prevented by another powerful storm, I know that these horrific acts of nature are a burden that you have wrestled with and courageously surmounted before. Your spirit is strong," Kerry said.
The Philippine Coast Guard reported 3,398 people were stranded on multiple watercraft early Saturday morning.
After the storm passed over his family's home in Cebu City, Chris Ducker told CNN by phone Saturday that his family was safe, but "it's been quite a harrowing day to say the least." Part of his roof was ripped off, leaking water, he said.
When Haiyan hit Cebu City on Friday morning, it awakened Ducker.
"The first thing I noticed straightaway as soon as my eyes opened was the howling of the winds around the house," said Ducker, whose home is in the mountains with a 360-degree view.
"I've never experienced winds like this in my entire existence. I've lived in this country for 13 years and I've been through a few earthquakes, I've been through plenty of these storms. We get hit quite regularly with storms, as you probably already know. But, yes, this was something else. The rain, when I looked out of the window, the rain wasn't falling. The rain was being pushed almost at, you know, a 100-degree angle right in front of our house. It was pretty incredible," he added.
Most of the Cebu province couldn't be contacted by landlines, cell phones or radio Saturday, said Dennis Chiong, operations officer for the province's disaster risk and emergency management.
Among the early reports is how one inaccessible town, Daanbantayan, has more than 3,000 residents who "badly need food, water and shelter because most of the houses there are damaged due to the storm," Chiong said.
The town of Santa Fe in Cebu saw 20% to 30% of its residents losing their houses, but officials weren't able to determine fatalities because roads were washed out and phone service was down, information officer Marvin Camay said on the province's Facebook page.
On Bohol Island, power was still out Saturday, but cell phone coverage was restored and damaged roads were being reopened, said one relief worker.
But the big concern was how did the typhoon impact the island's 350,000 people living in tents and temporary shelters since last month's earthquake, said Joe Curry of Catholic Relief Services on Bohol.
"This one was incredibly intense and big," Curry told CNN. "The strength of this typhoon is phenomenal and the way it moved across the Philippines is something of serious concern."
He feared that the hardest hit islands will experience the most fatalities.
"Those are the ones that will have the most loss," Curry said. "There are a lot of rural areas, a lot of small islands that are affected. We don't know how they can protect themselves from a typhoon of this strength."
Clarson Fruelda, of Cebu City, said residents were cleaning up dirt, leaves, coconuts, and tree branches from their homes Friday afternoon, when the storm had passed. A CNN iReporter, she described the Filipino spirit as "waterproof."
"The winds were the strongest that I felt in more than 20 years," Fruelda told CNN. "These past few weeks were really tough for my wife and I and probably for Cebuanos as well since it was just a few weeks ago when we were hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.