Asia Pacific

Tourists stranded and at least 16 dead after Typhoon Phanfone in Philippines

AFP-JIJI

Tourists were stranded on Thursday after a typhoon swept across the popular Philippine holiday island of Boracay on Christmas Day, killing at least 16 people in other parts of the country.

Typhoon Phanfone, with wind gusts reaching 200 kilometers an hour (125 mph), tore roofs off houses and toppled electric posts as it ripped through the central Philippines on Wednesday.

At least 16 people were killed in villages and towns in the Visayas, the central third of the Philippines, according to disaster agency officials.

Phanfone also hit Coron and other holiday destinations that are famed for their white-sand beaches.

Mobile phone and internet access on Boracay was cut during the storm on Wednesday and the networks remained down on Thursday, making assessment of the damage there difficult.

“Still, communication lines are down. Electricity is still down,” said Jonathan Pablito, police chief of the town of Malay in Aklan province, which is on an island neighboring Boracay.

Pablito said ferry services between Boracay and Aklan — the main way to travel to and from the holiday island — were not yet operating, even though the storm had passed: “We have no news from coast guard if ships were allowed to sail. Since the 24th … all those going to the island and coming from the island weren’t able to cross.”

The airport at Kalibo town in Aklan, which services Boracay, was badly damaged, according to a South Korean tourist who was stranded there and provided images to AFP.

“Roads remain blocked, but some efforts have been made to clear away the damage. It’s pretty bad,” Jung Byung-joon said via Instagram messenger. “Everything within 100 meters of the airport looks broken. There are a lot of frustrated people at the airport as flights have been canceled. Taxis are still running but it’s windy and still raining, so no one wants to leave the airport, including me.”

Another South Korean tourist stuck at the damaged airport said she had been unable to make contact with her friend on Borocay on Thursday. “I tried to call my friend in Boracay today and wasn’t able to get through. Maybe something isn’t working,” Dahae Gong said via Instagram. “I don’t know when I will be able to go home.”

There was no indication of any major damage on Boracay.

Though much weaker, Phanfone tracked a similar path as Typhoon Haiyan — the country’s deadliest storm on record, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

“It’s like the younger sibling of Haiyan. It’s less destructive but it followed a similar path,” said Cindy Ferrer, an information officer at the Western Visayas region’s disaster bureau.

Tens of thousands of people in the mostly Catholic nation had been forced to evacuate their homes on Wednesday, ruining Christmas celebrations.

Many others were not able to return to their families, with ferries and plane services suspended.

Among those killed Phanfone was a police officer who was electrocuted by a toppled post while patrolling.

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific typhoon belt and is hit by an average of 20 major storms a year.

Many of the storms wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure, keeping millions of people perennially poor.