Typhoon ruins Christmas for travelers, evacuees in Philippines

December 25, 2019 - 5:29 PM
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Typhoon Ursula in the Philippines
Destroyed Christmas decorations are seen after Typhoon Phanfone swept through Tanauan, Leyte, in the Philippines December 25, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media. (Paul Cinco via Reuters)

MANILA — Christmas turned to chaos for many holiday observers in the central Philippines as a typhoon with strong winds and heavy rains destroyed homes, cut off power and stranded travelers, disaster officials said on Wednesday.

Typhoon Phanfone (local name Ursula), rated category 2 by Tropical Storm Risk, was packing maximum sustained winds of 120 km per hour (75 miles per hour) with gusts up to 150 kph when it made landfall in the eastern province of Samar on Tuesday, weather and disaster officials said.

More than 4,000 people have been evacuated in the Eastern Visayas region of the central Philippines, disaster officials said, although no deaths have been reported.

Images posted by Paul Cinco, a resident of Tanauan, Leyte province, showed strong gusts and damage caused overnight.

Typhoon Ursula in the Philippines
Fallen trees are seen after Typhoon Phanfone (local name Ursula) swept through Tanauan, Leyte, in the Philippines December 25, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media. (Paul Cinco via Reuters)

“The aftermath, of course, made us sad because it’s Christmas Day… it doesn’t feel like Christmas, but we’re blessed to be safe… no major devastation or casualties reported,” he said.

More than 20,000 passengers and 157 vessels were stranded in ports on Wednesday, and at least 60 domestic flights have been canceled. Local media reported that 100 homes in the path of the storm were destroyed overnight.

An average of 20 typhoons cross the Philippines each year, with storms becoming fiercer in recent years. More than 6,000 people died and 200,000 homes destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest-ever storm to make landfall in the Philippines, hit the central islands of Leyte and Samar six years ago. Phanfone, which gained strength as it barrelled through the central region, is expected to exit the country on Thursday. — Reporting by Peter Blaza and Karen Lema Editing by Edmund Klamann