By Nonoy Espina and Mark Navales
The death toll left by Typhoon Phanfone, which sliced through the central Philippines on Christmas Day, has reached 28 and may still climb, officials said Friday.
Disaster officials said that of the total figure thus far, four were recorded in the province of Capiz; two in Aklan province; 13 in Iloilo; one in Southern Leyte; one in Cebu; two in Leyte; one in Biliran; three in Eastern Samar; and one in Western Samar.
Mark Cashean Timbal, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said that most of the deaths were due to drowning, electrocution or trauma from fallen debris. Twelve more people were reported missing while 45,000 families were displaced and staying in evacuation centers, he said.
“There are ongoing rescue operations for those residents trapped in their homes due to flooding. We have deployed our damage assessors to find out the extent of destruction,” Timbal said.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 195 kph (120 mph), the typhoon, locally known as Ursula, made multiple landfalls after hitting Salcedo town in Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve, according to the state weather agency.
It also slammed into Tacloban City in Leyte province where Super Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, landed with devastating fury in 2013, leaving over 6,000 people dead.
A number of domestic flights were cancelled while hundreds of passengers at the port in Manila were stranded after ferry services were suspended.
Global humanitarian agency Oxfam said thousands of families in coastal areas affected by the typhoon urgently need food, water and shelter.
“Oxfam is deeply concerned about the situation of communities hit by Typhoon Ursula, which made seven landfalls in 24 hours beginning on Christmas Eve – usually a time for celebration and thanksgiving in the Philippines. Many of the communities are still struggling to get back on their feet in the wake of Typhoon Kammuri, which hit earlier this month,” said country director Lot Felizco.
Felizco said that in Leyte, Ursula carved the same path as Haiyan in 2013.
“Although weaker, its devastating impacts are widely felt, especially here in Leyte, where houses have been damaged and electric posts toppled. We spent Christmas Day in total darkness,” Felizco said.
Arthur Defensor Jr., the governor of Iloilo province, said they were still verifying additional reports of missing persons and other deaths.
“There are still three missing people from three of my towns, but we are still validating the report,” Defensor said.
About 20 tropical storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year, some of them devastating. Earlier in December, Typhoon Kammuri caused widespread damage and left at least 13 people dead.