Miserable Christmas Day: Typhoon Phanfone kills at least 16 in Philippines

Residents wade through a flooded highway, caused by heavy rains due to Typhoon Phanfone, in Ormoc City, Leyte province in central Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
Villagers walk by a damaged home and a cargo ship that had washed ashore in the typhoon-hit city of Ormoc, Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Villagers wade through water next to a flooded home on Christmas day in the typhoon-hit city of Ormoc, Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
A resident looks at a house damaged at the height of Typhoon Phanfone in Tacloban, Leyte province in the central Philippines on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
A toppled Christmas tree in the typhoon-hit city of Ormoc, Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Lamp posts damaged due to Typhoon Phanfone lie on a road in Ormoc City, Leyte province in central Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA/ILOILO CITY (AFP, PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A typhoon that swept across remote villages and popular tourist areas of the central Philippines on Christmas Day claimed at least 16 lives, authorities said on Thursday (Dec 26).

Typhoon Phanfone, known locally as Ursula, with winds of 195kmh, tore roofs off houses and toppled electric posts as it cut across the Philippines on Wednesday.

With the Internet and mobile phone networks still cut off in some badly damaged areas, a full assessment of Phanfone's damage was not immediately possible on Thursday morning.

But at least 16 people had been confirmed killed in villages and towns in the Visayas, the central third of the Philippines, according to disaster agency officials.

Phanfone also hit Boracay, Coron and other holiday destinations that are famed for their white-sand beaches and popular with foreign tourists.

The airport at Kalibo, which services Boracay, was badly damaged, according to a Korean tourist who was stranded there and provided images to AFP.

"Roads remain blocked, but some efforts have been made to clear away the damage. It's pretty bad," Jung Byung Joon said via Instagram messenger.

"Everything within 100 meters of the airport looks broken. There are a lot of frustrated people at the airport as flights have been cancelled.

"Taxis are still running but it's windy and still raining so no one wants to leave the airport, including me."

Though much weaker, Phanfone tracked a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan - the country's deadliest storm on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

"It's like the younger sibling of Haiyan. It's less destructive, but it followed a similar path," Cindy Ferrer, an information officer at the Western Visayas region's disaster officer, told AFP.

Tens of thousands of people in the mostly Catholic nation had been forced to evacuate their homes on Wednesday, ruining Christmas celebrations.

Many others were not able to return to their families, with ferries and plane services suspended.

Among those killed Phanfone was a police officer who was electrocuted by a toppled electric post while patrolling.

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific typhoon belt, and is hit by an average of about 20 major storms a year.

Many of the storms are deadly, and they typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure, keeping millions of people perennially poor.

ON THE WAY OUT

A motorist rides past a galvanised roof blown down from a house damaged at the height of Typhoon Phanfone in Tacloban, Leyte province in the central Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

Pagasa weather specialist Aldczar Aurelio said the typhoon was moving west-northwest at 20kmh and expected to be over the West Philippine Sea by Thursday afternoon, gradually weakening as it neared the boundary line of Philippine territory.

Mr Aurelio said the typhoon would further lose strength by Saturday afternoon, turning into a tropical storm as it exited the country.

As of Wednesday afternoon, tropical cyclone wind Signal No. 3, the third-highest in a five-level warning system, was raised in southern Oriental Mindoro, southern Occidental Mindoro, Calamian Islands and Caluya, while Signal No. 2 was up in Romblon, Batangas, Marinduque, the rest of Oriental Mindoro, the rest of Occidental Mindoro (including Lubang Island), Cuyo Islands, extreme northern Palawan, northern Antique and north-western Aklan.

Bataan, Cavite, Laguna, the rest of northern Palawan, southern Quezon, Capiz, the rest of Antique and the rest of Aklan were under Signal No. 1.

WORST-HIT PROVINCES

Residents walk past a house damaged during Typhoon Phanfone in Tacloban, Leyte province in the central Philippines, on Dec 25, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

Typhoon Phanfone also battered Boracay Island in Aklan, with residents reporting damaged houses and flooding on Christmas Day.

Among the worst hit were Samar Island, Tacloban, Capiz and Aklan, and northern Iloilo and northern Antique.

In Leyte, strong winds blew three barges to shore at Barangay Punta, Ormoc City, on Tuesday night, the Coast Guard said. One of the barges hit a house, but no one was hurt, it said.

National Grid Corporation of the Philippines said three 138-kV lines and three 230-kV lines tripped at the height of the typhoon, cutting electricity to the entire island of Samar, Leyte, Biliran and Bohol.

All of Aklan and two towns in northern Antique also lost power after strong winds damaged the 138-kV Panit-an-Nabas line.

Parts of Iloilo and Capiz also experienced power outages.

Mr Roberto Nunez, Western Visayas civil defence director, said evacuation and flooding were reported in the northern areas of Panay Island, especially in Capiz and Aklan.

Capiz Governor Esteban Evan Contreras said among the worst flooded was President Roxas, where floodwaters reached chest-high in the town centre.

Provincial disaster officer Judy Grace Pelaez said the typhoon, though weaker than Yolanda, brought heavier rains.

She said the province's first congressional district was first to report flooding, which was unusual because towns in the second district were usually the first to be flooded during typhoons.

"We are preparing for more flooding when the floodwaters from the second district flow into areas in the first district," Ms Pelaez said.

As Typhoon Phanfone moved west on Christmas Day, some evacuees were allowed to go home in Albay and Sorsogon provinces.

In Libon town, Albay, however, 251 evacuees were not allowed to return to their homes in Barangay Burabod that were damaged by a landslide on Dec 2.

Mr Ian James Secillano, municipal disaster official, said the evacuees would not be allowed to decamp until the government had provided a relocation site for them.

"As long as there is a threat of landslide, we will not allow them to go back to their houses. the long-term recommendation is to relocate them, probably in the nearby village," Mr Secillano said.

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