Typhoon Phanfone brings misery to Philippines on Christmas Day

Thousands were stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centres at the height of the festive season

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Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on Christmas Day, bringing a wet and miserable holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation.

Thousands were 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 leapt from one small island to another for the second day.

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

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

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 after she and her four-year-old child spent the night at the local state weather service office where her husband worked.

A metal window frame flew off and fell on to a car parked outside the building, she said.

With only 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 on top of a nearby house.

The weather office said the typhoon strengthened slightly overnight on Tuesday and was gusting at 195 kilometres an hour, velocities that can knock down small trees and destroy houses made of light materials.

More islands are along its projected path are expected to be hit with destructive winds and intense rainfall before blowing out into the South China Sea early on Thursday, it said.

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.

Scores of 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 is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing scores of 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 most frequent storms lop one per cent off the Philippine economic output, with the stronger ones cutting output by almost three per cent.