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Death toll rises as Philippines recovers from typhoon

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.

A father, his three children and another relative were among those missing in hard-hit Iloilo province after a swollen river inundated their shanty, officials said.

The typhoon slammed into Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve and then barreled 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 sea ports 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 canceled.

The storm weakened slightly on Thursday as it blew into the South China Sea with sustained winds of 120 kilometers (74 miles) per hour and gusts of 150 kph (93 mph), according to the weather agency.