Tropical storm ruins Christmas for thousands of Filipinos

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2019

Tropical storm ruins Christmas for thousands of Filipinos

  • Officials on Christmas Eve said residents should evacuate coastal areas, and thousands more were stranded at ports with ferry services shut down
  • Strong winds and associated dangers like floods, landslides, and, more rarely, giant walls of seawater pounding the coasts kill scores of people each year

MANILA: Thousands of people in typhoon-prone central Philippines have had their Christmas plans ruined after they were told to leave their homes as a severe tropical storm approaches.
Officials on Christmas Eve said residents should evacuate coastal areas, and thousands more were stranded at ports with ferry services shut down as the nation hunkered down for rain and strong winds.
Damaging gale- to storm-force winds were forecast over the Asian nation’s Pacific coast in the afternoon ahead of Tropical Storm Phanfone’s projected landfall on Samar island as early as 5:00 p.m. (0900 GMT), the state weather service said.
Though much weaker, Phanfone was tracking a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan, the country’s deadliest cyclone on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.
All ships on the storm’s projected path through the central islands were ordered to stay in port, while local executives there told residents of the coasts as well as flood- and landslide-prone areas to move to safety.
“Some families are reluctant to evacuate because they want to celebrate Christmas at home, but local officials will force them out if they refuse to heed our warnings,” regional civil defense official Reyden Cabrigas told AFP.
Cabrigas, speaking by phone from the central city of Tacloban, said evacuations were underway there as well as nearby Samar, but added he did not immediately have a total count.
“We are aiming for zero casualties,” Cabrigas added.
More than 21,000 ferry passengers trying to get home for the mainly Catholic nation’s Christmas holidays have been stranded at ports as shipping shut down, the coast guard said Tuesday.
Local carriers also suspended dozens of domestic flights.
The state weather service said Phanfone, Laotian for “animal,” may strengthen into a typhoon with sustained peak winds of more than 120 kilometers (62 miles) an hour overnight Wednesday.
It advised residents, including those in Manila, to stay indoors on Christmas Day to avoid the high winds which can cause damage to weaker structures.
The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt, and the archipelago gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, putting millions of people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.
Strong winds and associated dangers like floods, landslides, and, more rarely, giant walls of seawater pounding the coasts kill scores of people each year, wipe out farmers’ harvests and destroy infrastructure.
Homes built with flimsy materials, as well as populated areas along the coasts, floodplains, and mountainous interiors, are often the most vulnerable.


Afghanistan to free 900 more Taliban prisoners

Updated 35 min 18 sec ago

Afghanistan to free 900 more Taliban prisoners

  • The government earlier responded to the Taliban’s cease-fire offer by announcing plans to release up to 2,000 insurgent prisoners
  • The cease-fire, only the second of its kind in the 19-year-old conflict, has raised hopes of an extended truce

KABUL: Afghan authorities plan to release 900 more Taliban prisoners Tuesday, as a rare cease-fire by the insurgents entered its third and last day.
The pause in fighting, which came into effect Sunday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, was for the most part holding out across the country, officials said.
The government earlier responded to the Taliban’s cease-fire offer by announcing plans to release up to 2,000 insurgent prisoners.
On Monday they freed 100 people and will release another 900 on Tuesday, the government said, the biggest group of Taliban prisoners freed so far.
“There is a decision to release 900 today,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP.
But the exact number could vary subject to legal procedures, he added.
The cease-fire, only the second of its kind in the 19-year-old conflict, has raised hopes of an extended truce that could pave the way for long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.
President Ashraf Ghani has said his administration is ready to begin the negotiations, seen as key to ending the war in the impoverished country.
On Tuesday officials said the cease-fire, the country’s first initiated by the Taliban, had largely been observed.
The only other comparable pause in violence came over Eid in 2018, an olive branch offered by Ghani.
Violence in Afghanistan escalated after the Taliban signed a deal with Washington in February to withdraw all US forces by next year.
The agreement also stipulated the Afghan government would first release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel.
Prior to this week’s releases, Kabul had already freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates, while the insurgents had let go about 300 Afghan security forces captives.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has welcomed the cease-fire, and said the freed Taliban fighters should not return to the battlefield.