The death toll from a Christmas typhoon that tore through the central Philippines has risen to 28, with 12 people missing, as authorities move to restore power and residents tried to repair damaged homes.
Typhoon Phanfone devastated Christmas celebrations in the predominantly Catholic country, stranding people in sea and airports at the peak of holiday travel, setting off landslides, engulfing low-lying villages with floods, destroying houses, downing trees and electrical posts and knocking out power in entire provinces.
One disaster response officer described the battered coastal town of Batad in Iloilo province as a “ghost town” on Christmas Day.
“You can’t see anybody because there was a total blackout, you can’t hear anything. The town looked like a ghost town,” Cindy Ferrer of the regional Office of the Civil Defence said.
It breaks my heart seing this photos of my beloved town. Typhoon Ursula made a big impact on President Roxas. While the world is celebrating and the having fun of their lives, the people in this town are fighting to live. What a sad Christmas. Stay safe guys!#UrsulaPH
— Akikay (@Akipalaciost) December 25, 2019
The storm weakened slightly on Thursday as it blew into the South China Sea with sustained winds of 120km/h and gusts of 150km/h after lashing island after island with fierce winds and pounding rain on Christmas Day, the weather agency said.
Most of the 20 deaths reported by officials were due to drowning, falling trees and accidental electrocution.
A father, his three children and another relative were among those missing in hard-hit Iloilo province after a swollen river inundated their shanty, officials said.
The typhoon slammed into Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve and then moved across the archipelago’s central region on Christmas, slamming into seven coastal towns and island provinces without losing power, government forecasters said.
Typhoon Phanfone, known locally as Typhoon Ursula, first made landfall on Eastern Samar province, Philippines on Tuesday, bringing heavy rain and storm surges. It hit as the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane, packing sustained wind speeds of 150 km/h, with gusts of 195 km/h. pic.twitter.com/A1toLUBdIo
— Emil Nivantha Perera (@emilnivantha) December 26, 2019
Provincial officials, army troops, police and volunteers spent Christmas away from home to tend to thousands of displaced residents in town gymnasiums and schools turned into emergency shelters.
More than 25,000 people were stranded in sea ports across the central region and outlying provinces after the coast guard prohibited ferries and cargo ships from venturing into dangerously choppy waters. Dozens of domestic flights to and from the region were cancelled.
About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year. The Southeast Asian nation is also located in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions often occur, making the country of more than 100 million people one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
Watch: Our team started the clearing operations in the Municipality of Balasan, Iloilo after the devastation brought by Typhoon Ursula. Some roads are not passable due to fallen trees and strong winds caused by the typhoon. pic.twitter.com/JytdiBXvlH
— Philippine Red Cross (@philredcross) December 26, 2019