Typhoon Ursula death toll rises to 28

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – At least 28 people were killed after Typhoon Ursula (Phanfone) devastated the central islands in the Philippines, according to the latest report of the National Disaster  Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). 

As of 6 am on Friday, December 27, the deadly typhoon’s death toll climbed to 28 across Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas.

Nearly half of the deaths – 13 – were recorded in Iloilo, where 6 members of one family were found dead after strong floodwaters swept them away in Batad town.  

In Western Visayas, 4 people perished in Capiz and two in Aklan. Eastern Visayas recorded 8 deaths: 3 from Eastern Samar, two from Leyte, and one each from Southern Leyte, Biliran, and Samar.

There was only one recorded in death in Cebu in Central Visayas, so far. 

The NDDRMC also reported two injured residents from Iloilo, while another 12 people from across the 3 regions were reported missing as of Friday morning.

The death toll is expected to rise further as reports come in, authorities said.

"The likelihood is present that the casualty count will still increase. We're hoping against it," national disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal told Agence France-Presse. 

Typhoon Ursula first made landfall in Eastern Samar on Christmas Eve, December 24, barrelling through the central islands of the Visayas and making 6 more landfalls as it made its way towards the West Philippine Sea. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Buildings, homes destroyed as Typhoon Ursula batters parts of Visayas)

As of a 5 pm bulletin on Friday, Ursula has weakened into a severe tropical storm, according to state weather bureau PAGASA. It was spotted 430 kilometers west of Subic, Zambales, packing maximum sustained winds of 100 km/h near the center and gustiness of up to 125 km/h. The tail-end of a cold front is affecting Northern Luzon.

Leyte, Capiz, and the towns of Medellin and Daanbantayan have already declared a state of calamity in the aftermath of Typhoon Ursula. 

Pope Francis offered his prayers to Filipinos affected by Typhoon Ursula after reciting the Angelus prayer for St Stephen’s Day on Thursday, December 26.

The typhoon displaced over 12,000 families who were forced to celebrate Christmas in evacuation centers.

Others missed family reunions, with plane and ferry services canceled.

It also hit Boracay island, famed for its white sand beaches which draws more than a million tourists a year.

Coconut trees were uprooted on Boracay and windows in some resorts were blown in during the storm, and ferry services to and from the island were cut on Wednesday and Thursday.

However no one died on Boracay, and the damage was not on the scale of badly hit coastal towns elsewhere in the central Philippines.

A total of 55 schools were partially damaged in 4 regions. Around 147 cities and towns had experienced power outages. Power has been restored in 31 of these areas, said NDRRMC.

In its 6 pm report, the agency reported 18 government facilities in two towns in Samar have been partially damaged. Two health facilities in Daanbantayan, Cebu and one in Tacloban City, Leyte were also partially damaged but remained functional. A total of 51 road sections in Western and Eastern Visayas regions were affected. Of the number, 4 are still not passable.

The Office of Civil Defense is coordinating the response and relief efforts. The NDRRMC added that food packs and relief goods have been distributed, communication lines are being restored, and health services are being provided in affected areas.

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

Ursula, is the 21st cyclone to hit the Philippines in 2019.  

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

Though much weaker, Ursula tracked a similar path as Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – the country's deadliest storm on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

Ursula blew out into the South China Sea on Thursday morning. 

It was tracking towards Vietnam on Friday but forecast to weaken signficantly into a low pressure area well before making landfall again. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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