Typhoon Phanfone turns deadly, stops transportation in Philippines

Satellite photo of Typhoon Phanfone on Dec. 26, 2019.

A typhoon that slammed the central Philippines on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day has killed at least 16 people, damaged homes and tourist areas and sent transportation to a screeching halt.

Typhoon Phanfone, known locally as Typhoon Ursula, first made landfall in eastern Samar province on Tuesday, Dec. 24, producing heavy rain and storm surge. At landfall, Phanfone was as strong as a Category 1 hurricane, with sustained winds of 93 mph (150 kph) and gusts of around 120 mph.

Phanfone continued to thrash westward across the islands of the eastern and western Visayas regions and southern Luzon on Christmas Day, toppling utility lines and trees, tearing off roofs, damaging homes and causing widespread travel disruption over the busy holiday period.

The majority of the regions’ residents are Catholic and many people were preparing for family celebrations when the typhoon hit. Images from the area showed debris blocking roads, downed lampposts, crumpled houses and people huddled in evacuation centers.

Earlier today, Dec. 26, the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that 13 people had died in the western Visayas region, while the Office of Civil Defense said three had died in eastern Visayas, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines.

About 2,350 people have been affected by the typhoon and more than 1,650 people have taken refuge in evacuation centers, according to the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). A total of 58,400 people were preemptively evacuated ahead of the typhoon, the NDRRMC added.

NDRRMC officials said 87 cities and municipalities experienced power outages, but by early today power had been restored in 24 of them. The full extent of the damage had not been determined as power and communications in several areas remain cut off.

Typhoon Phanfone damage at Kalibo International Airport, Dec. 25, 2019. (Image: Kalibo Airport Facebook page)

Some tourist areas, including the popular resort island of Boracay, were also damaged on Christmas Day. The nearby Kalibo International Airport (ICAO code: KPVK, IATA code: KLO) was temporarily closed and flights were canceled after the typhoon damaged the roof of the terminal building, according to an advisory from Philippine Airlines. A list of canceled flights for Dec. 26 and 27 can be found here.

Thousands of people who were traveling over the Christmas period had their flights and ferries canceled due to the typhoon. Around 115 domestic flights were canceled and more than 15,700 passengers left stranded, according to the NDRRMC. Almost 4,000 people remained stranded in several ports around the region on Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

The Philippines gets hit by more typhoons than any other country, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

SONAR Infrastructure (left) showing seaports (dark blue dots) and container ship locations; Critical Events (right) showing latest position and forecast path for Typhoon Phanfone.
Today, Phanfone will continue moving westward across the China Sea. As of the latest update at 7 a.m. EST, the typhoon’s maximum sustained winds had decreased to 85 mph. According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), the storm should weaken substantially before possibly reaching South Korea late this weekend or early next week.