Philippines: Typhoon misery as Phanfone wreaks havoc on Christmas

Phanfone, with maximum gustiness of 190km an hour, batters islands in central Philippines, toppling houses and trees.

Phanfone - Philippines
The Philippines gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year [Alren Beronio/AFP]

Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on Christmas Day, bringing a wet and miserable holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation, and forcing thousands to seek shelter at government facilities.

Thousands were also stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centres at the height of the festive season on Wednesday, and residents cowered in rain-soaked homes as Phanfone moved from one small island to the other for the second day.

The country’s weather agency, PAGASA, said that as of midday on Wednesday, Phanfone, also known locally as Ursula, had maximum winds of 140km an hour (86.9 mph) and gustiness of up to 190km an hour (118 mph).

The typhoon toppled houses and trees and blacked out cities in the Philippines’s most storm-prone region, but no deaths were reported.

Though weaker, Phanfone was tracking a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan – the country’s deadliest cyclone on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

Thousands evacuate, stranded at ports

More than 10,000 people spent the night in schools, gyms and government buildings hastily converted into evacuation centres as the typhoon made landfall on Tuesday, civil defence officials said.

“It was frightening. The glass windows shattered and we took cover by the stairs,” Ailyn Metran told AFP news agency after she and her four-year-old child spent the night at the local state weather service office where her husband worked.

With just two hours’ sleep, the family returned to their home in the central city of Tacloban early on Wednesday to find their two dogs safe but the floor was covered in mud and a felled tree rested atop a nearby house.

More islands along Phanfone’s projected path are expecting to be hit by destructive winds and intense rainfall before blowing out into the South China Sea early on Thursday, it added.

More than 25,000 people trying to get home for the traditional Christmas Eve midnight dinner with their families remained stranded at ports on Christmas Day with ferry services still shut down, the coastguard said.

Flights to the region also remained cancelled, though the populous capital, Manila, on the northern edge has so far been spared.

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt.

As such, the archipelago gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing many people and wiping out harvests, homes and other infrastructure and keeping millions perennially poor.

A July 2019 study by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank said the more frequent storms lop 1 percent off the Philippine economic output, while the stronger ones cut output by nearly 3 percent.

Source: News Agencies