Most of the deaths caused by Typhoon Phanfone were reported in remote villages and popular tourist areas of central Philippines on Christmas day, officials said.

Workers pull a fallen electric pylon damaged at the height of Typhoon Phanfone in Salcedo town in Eastern Samar province on December 26, 2019.
Workers pull a fallen electric pylon damaged at the height of Typhoon Phanfone in Salcedo town in Eastern Samar province on December 26, 2019. (AFP)

A strong typhoon that barreled through the central Philippines left at least 20 people dead and forced thousands to flee their homes, devastating Christmas celebrations in the predominantly Catholic country.

Typhoon Phanfone stranded many people in sea and airports at the peak of holiday travel, set off landslides, engulfed low-lying villages with floods, destroyed houses, downed trees, and electrical posts and knocked out power in entire provinces.

Most of the 20 deaths reported by officials were due to drowning, falling trees, and accidental electrocution in the villages and towns of Visayas, the central third of the Philippines, according to disaster agency officials.

A father, his three children, and another relative were among those missing in hard-hit Iloilo province after a swollen river inundated the shed where they lived, officials said.

Phanfone also hit Boracay, Coron and other holiday destinations that are famed for their white-sand beaches and popular with foreign tourists.

Thousands stranded in seaports

The typhoon slammed into Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve and then barrelled across the archipelago's central region on Christmas, slamming into seven coastal towns and island provinces without losing power, government forecasters said.

Provincial officials, army troops, police and volunteers spent Christmas away from home to tend to thousands of displaced residents in town gymnasiums and schools turned into emergency shelters

More than 25,000 people were stranded in seaports across the central region and outlying provinces after the coast guard prohibited ferries and cargo ships from venturing into dangerously choppy waters.

Dozens of domestic flights to and from the region were cancelled.

The storm weakened slightly on Thursday as it blew into the South China Sea with sustained winds of 120 kph and gusts of 150 kph, according to the weather agency.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, with storms becoming fiercer in recent years.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies