Nonoy Espina and Jeoffrey Maitem
Bacolod and Cotabato, Philippines
At least 16 people were killed after Typhoon Phanfone left a trail of devastation and disrupted travel on Christmas Day across the central Philippines, officials said Thursday.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 195 kph (120 mph), the typhoon made landfall in Salcedo town in Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve, according to PAGASA, the national weather agency.
The typhoon, locally known as Ursula, also battered Tacloban City in Leyte province, and swept across nearby Biliran island by nightfall, the agency said.
The typhoon stranded hundreds of passenger at the port in Manila after ferry services were suspended, while thousands in the country’s central third fled their homes and spent their Christmas in evacuation centers, authorities said.
The government's disaster risk-reduction agency said at least 16 were killed, mostly due to falling trees, drowning and accidental electrocution. It said at least five others were reported missing in the central Philippines, a predominantly Catholic region where many people were preparing for Christmas celebrations when the typhoon made landfall.
Local television footage showed widespread areas inundated by floods.
In the town of President Roxas in Capiz province, strong winds wiped out hundreds of shanties and knocked down power lines. Flights were also cancelled at the airport in Kalibo, the gateway to the famous Boracay island in the Visayas region.
Sen. Richard Gordon, the Philippine Red Cross chairman, said volunteers had initiated clearing operations in typhoon-hit areas.
“We sympathize with the families affected by Ursula by deaths, homelessness, floods and those who missed Christmas,” Gordon said. “We still have a lot of things to accomplish to help the most vulnerable and we will not stop until we help them get back on their feet.”
He said teams had been deployed in the most-affected areas to clear roads of debris, including fallen trees and toppled electricity posts. He appealed to the public for food, blankets, tents and basic necessities.
“Some roads are not passable due to fallen trees caused by strong winds,” Gordon said.
Worst-hit was the town of President Roxas, where floodwaters reached up to chest-high in the downtown area, provincial disaster officer Judy Grace Pelaez said.
Ursula was weaker than Typhoon Haiyan, which ravaged the country in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people, but it brought heavier rains.
“We are preparing for more flooding,” Pelaez said.
Ursula tracked the same path as Haiyan, the Philippines’ deadliest cyclone on record, officials said.
The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported on Thursday that 13 people died in Western Visayas region while three were killed in Eastern Visayas.
More than 20 tropical storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year, some of them devastating. Ursula is the 21st typhoon to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year. Earlier this month, Typhoon Kammuri caused widespread damage and left at least 13 people dead.
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