A massive typhoon that pounded the central Philippines this week left at least 20 people dead and stranded thousands of others as they tried to make their way home for Christmas.
Typhoon Phanfone slammed into the predominantly Catholic country on Christmas Eve and barreled through its central region over the holiday, destroying houses, knocking down trees and power lines, flooding low-lying villages and setting off landslides.
The storm, known locally as Typhoon Ursula, weakened as it moved northwest on Thursday, but nearly 4,000 passengers were still stranded aboard a variety of vessels in the South China Sea, the archipelago’s Coast Guard announced on Twitter.
Most of the 20 confirmed deaths were caused by accidental electrocution, drowning and falling trees. The death toll was likely to rise as many people were still missing on Thursday.
One of the victims was a 70-year-old man who was killed when his house was swept away by storm surge, government officials said in a news release. A father, his three children and another relative were also killed when a swollen river inundated their shanty, authorities said.
Cindy Ferrer, of the regional Office of the Civil Defense, described the heavily battered town of Batad as a “ghost town.”
“You can’t see anybody because there was a total blackout, you can’t hear anything,” she told The Associated Press.
The typhoon on Thursday was still packing 74-mph winds, with gusts of up to 93 mph, according to the country’s Disaster Information Service. The agency said the storm is expected to leave the region by Saturday morning.