At least two people died in Leyte province while thousands spent their Christmas Eve in evacuation centers when Typhoon “Ursula” (international name “Phanfone”) unleashed its wrath in Eastern Visayas Tuesday night.
Arvin Monge, chief of the Leyte Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, said a police officer died due to electrocution when the typhoon made its second landfall in this city.
The PDRRMO was still getting more details on one typhoon-related fatality in Kananga, Leyte.
Based on an initial report, the powerful typhoon displaced at least 1,840 families or 16,787 individuals in 80 villages in15 towns in the province.
In Tacloban City, the regional capital, some 551 families or 1,507 individuals moved to evacuation centers.
Towns with evacuees were Palo, La Paz, Dulag, Pastrana, Babatngon, Barugo, Carigara, Jaro, San Isidro, Ormoc City, Isabel, Albuera, Villaba, Bato, Baybay City, Abuyog, and Tanauan.
Affected families had to skip the Christmas traditions of “noche buena” and the last “Simbang Gabi” Mass as they took shelter on higher ground away from home.
Monge said local authorities had disseminated warnings days before the typhoon’s landfall, but most residents ignored the warning since they were too preoccupied with Christmas Day preparations.
“This is the strongest after Super Typhoon “Yolanda” in terms of wind… The rain was not that heavy, but some areas were flooded early Wednesday morning as accumulated rainwater from upland flowed to populated communities after seven hours,” he said.
The majority of areas in Leyte province have been experiencing a power outage since Tuesday night as the storm’s fierce winds toppled several electric posts. Most areas have weak mobile phone signals as of Christmas Day.
With the storm’s impact, the PDRRMO was proposing to place Leyte under a state of calamity within the week.
“We still have to gather more data from affected municipalities. It is very challenging due to unstable communication signals, power outages, and lack of personnel,” Monge added.
Ursula made its first landfall in Salcedo, Eastern Samar at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, before making a second landfall in Tacloban City, Leyte, on the same day at 7:30 p.m.
The region’s five provinces were placed under Storm Warning Signal No. 3 on Tuesday night as the typhoon blew maximum sustained winds of up to 150 kph.
Ursula made its sixth landfall on Wednesday in Caluya Island, Antique, at 1 p.m.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration warned residents in the Caluya Islands of “destructive winds and intense rainfall.”
The eye of the typhoon was located at 70 kilometers southeast of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.
Packing sustained winds of 140 kms per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 195 kph, it was moving west at 20 kph.
The typhoon brought a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday season to millions.
Tens of thousands were stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centers at the height of the festive season on Wednesday, and residents cowered in rain-soaked homes as Ursula leapt from one small island to another for the second day.
The typhoon crumpled houses like accordions, toppled trees and blacked-out cities in the country’s most storm-prone region.
Though weaker, Ursula was tracking a similar path as Super Typhoon Yolanda—the country’s deadliest cyclone on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.
More than 16,000 people spent the night in improvised shelters in schools, gyms and government buildings as the typhoon made landfall Tuesday, civil defense officials said.
“It was frightening. The glass windows shattered and we took cover by the stairs,” Ailyn Metran said after she and her four-year-old child spent the night at the local state weather service office where her husband worked.
The typhoon ripped a metal window frame off the building and dropped it onto a car parked outside, she said.
With just two hours’ sleep, the family returned to their home in Tacloban city Wednesday to find their two dogs safe, but the floor was covered in mud and a felled tree rested atop a nearby house.
The weather office said the typhoon strengthened slightly overnight Tuesday and was gusting at 195 kilometers an hour, which can knock down small trees and destroy flimsy houses.
Survivors took to social media with pictures and videos of crushed homes, buses half-submerged in brown-colored floods, roads strewn with tree trunks, and coconut and banana plants being shredded by ferocious winds.
The typhoon hit land as millions of Filipinos trooped to once-yearly clan reunions centered on the “noche buena,” a sumptuous midnight meal that is the highlight of the Catholic nation’s holidays.
More than 25,000 people remained stranded at ports on Christmas Day with ferry services still shut down, the coast guard said.
Scores of flights to the region also remained cancelled, though the populous capital Manila, on the northern section has so far been spared.
Ursula ravaged the north of the island of Cebu overnight Tuesday, and residents decamped from evacuation centers only to find their homes damaged, civil defense official Allen Froilan Cabaron said.
“They were safer at the evacuation centers. At least they were able to eat the Christmas Eve meal there, even if only tinned fish and instant noodles were available,” Cabaron said.
“But even with food on the table, the atmosphere would have been different because they were not at home,” Cabaron added.
“Obviously, they were unable to celebrate Christmas properly because some spent the night at evacuation centers,” rescue official Cecille Bedonia said.
At the western island resort of Coron, the beaches emptied and boat tours were suspended as Western tourists stayed in their rooms to await the typhoon onslaught later Thursday.
“Many of the tourist establishments here are closed, and some of our guests failed to arrive because their flights were cancelled,” hotel receptionist Nina Edano said.
“We’re not scared, but the ambience here is generally gloomy,” she added.
The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt.
As such, the archipelago gets 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 1 percent off the Philippine economic output, with the stronger ones cutting output by nearly 3 percent.