Christmas typhoon leaves 28 dead in the Philippines


A strong typhoon that barrelled through the central Philippines has left at least 28 dead and 12 missing, and forced thousands to flee their homes, devastating Christmas celebrations in a predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Typhoon Phanfone stranded many people in sea and airports at the peak of holiday travel, set off landslides, flooded low-lying villages, destroyed houses, downed trees and electrical poles and knocked out power in entire provinces.

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Rescuers carry a body body, believed to be one of several fishermen who went missing at the height of Typhoon Phanfone that pummelled the central Philippines on Christmas Day, from the seashore in Borongan, Eastern Samar province on December 27, 2019. - The number of people killed from Typhoon Phanfone's onslaught in the Philippines has risen to 28, authorities said on Friday, after the powerful storm pounded the nation on Christmas day. (Photo by ALREN BERONIO / AFP) (Photo by ALREN BERONIO/AFP via Getty Images)
A house destroyed at the height of Typhoon Phanfone is seen in Balasan town in Iloilo province on December 26, 2019. - Typhoon Phanfone swept across remote villages and popular tourist areas of the central Philippines on Christmas day claimed at least 16 lives, authorities said on on December 26. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Workers remove a fallen tree and electric pylon (L) destroyed at the height of Typhoon Phanfone in Salcedo town, Eastern Samar province on December 26, 2019. - Typhoon Phanfone swept across remote villages and popular tourist areas of the central Philippines on Christmas day claimed at least 16 lives, authorities said on on December 26. (Photo by ALREN BERONIO / AFP) (Photo by ALREN BERONIO/AFP via Getty Images)
LEYTE PROVINCE, Dec. 25, 2019 -- Residents wade through flood brought by Typhoon Phanfone in Leyte Province, the Philippines, Dec. 25, 2019. Typhoon Phanfone has pounded the central Philippines with heavy rain and strong winds from Tuesday, killing at least 13 people, the government said on Thursday. (Photo by Str/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/STRINGER via Getty Images)
LEYTE PROVINCE, Dec. 25, 2019 -- Residents wade through flood brought by Typhoon Phanfone in Leyte Province, the Philippines, Dec. 25, 2019. Typhoon Phanfone has pounded the central Philippines with heavy rain and strong winds from Tuesday, killing at least 13 people, the government said on Thursday. (Photo by Str/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/STRINGER via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Residents stand next to a house damaged by typhoon Phanfone in Ormoc City, Leyte province in central Philippines on December 25, 2019. - Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on December 25, bringing a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation. (Photo by RONALD FRANK DEJON / AFP) (Photo by RONALD FRANK DEJON/AFP via Getty Images)
Motorists wade through a flooded highway, caused by heavy rains due to typhoon Phanfone, in Ormoc City, Leyte province in central Philippines on December 25, 2019. - Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on December 25, bringing a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation. (Photo by RONALD FRANK DEJON / AFP) (Photo by RONALD FRANK DEJON/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Residents walk past a house damaged during Typhoon Phanfone in Tacloban, Leyte province in the central Philippines on December 25, 2019. - Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on Christmas Day, bringing a wet and miserable holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation. (Photo by Bobbie ALOTA / AFP) (Photo by BOBBIE ALOTA/AFP via Getty Images)
Uprooted trees are seen on a road in the aftermath of Typhoon Phanfone in Tacloban, Leyte province in the central Philippines on December 25, 2019. - Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on Christmas Day, bringing a wet and miserable holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation. (Photo by Bobbie ALOTA / AFP) (Photo by BOBBIE ALOTA/AFP via Getty Images)
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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.

The storm weakened as it blew into the South China Sea with sustained winds of 74mph and gusts of 93mph, after lashing island after island with fierce winds and pounding rain on Christmas Day, the weather agency said.

Entire family swept away

Most of the deaths reported by police and local officials were due to drowning, falling trees and 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.

The typhoon slammed into Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve and then ploughed across the archipelago's central region on Christmas, slamming into seven coastal towns and island provinces without losing power.

Provincial officials, army troops, police and volunteers spent Christmas away from home to tend to thousands of displaced residents in town gyms and schools turned into emergency shelters. Many more people spent Christmas Eve in bus stations.

'Disaster-prone'

More than 25,000 people were stranded in sea ports across the central region and outlying provinces after the coastguard prohibited ferries and cargo ships from venturing into dangerously choppy waters.

Dozens of international and domestic flights to and from the region were cancelled, including to popular beach and surfing resorts.

About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year. The south-east 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.

Phanfone, a Laotian word for animal, travelled along a path similar to that of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most ferocious storms on record, which left more than 7,300 people dead and missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than five million people in the central Philippines in 2013.

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