MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine coast guard pressed its search Tuesday for 18 missing Filipino crewmen from a cargo ship that sank at the height of Typhoon Nock-Ten, which struck the country on Christmas Day, spoiling holiday celebrations in Asia’s largest Catholic nation.
Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said 14 other crewmen have been rescued and one died after the M/V Starlite Atlantic sank off Mabini town in Batangas province, where the powerful typhoon passed Monday on its way out of the country into the South China Sea.
The ship sought cover in an anchorage area as the typhoon passed and its crew decided to move to safer waters but encountered huge waves and fierce winds, causing it to sink, Balilo said, adding that another cargo ship ran aground in Mabini.
At least seven people died from the typhoon, including the sunken ship’s crewman and villagers who drowned from flooding or were pinned by fallen trees or a collapsed wall in Albay and Quezon provinces.
President Rodrigo Duterte was to fly to the hard-hit town of Virac on the eastern island province of Catanduanes, where the typhoon made landfall on Sunday night, to distribute food packs to residents. Ahead of the president’s visit, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and top military officials flew to Virac and were stunned by the extent of devastation.
“Their common perception is that Virac is completely devastated,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said of the coastal town of more than 70,000 people. The province’s coconut plantations, the primary industry, were destroyed and may take five to 10 years to recover, he said.
Nock-Ten, locally known as Nina, forced more than 420,000 villagers to abandon their Christmas celebrations for emergency shelters and other safer grounds. It also knocked down power in several provinces, dimming holiday festivities. More than 300 flights were delayed or rescheduled and ferries were barred from sailing, stranding more than 12,000 holiday travelers.
The storm was one of the strongest to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing and displaced over 5 million in 2014. But officials in some provinces initially found it difficult to convince people to abandon their Christmas celebrations and head for the shelters before the storm hit. Some officials said they had to impose forced evacuations.
About 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year. In the past 65 years, seven typhoons have hit on Christmas Day, the Southeast Asian nation’s biggest holiday.