x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Flooding recedes in Manila after killing at least 23

Abate in weather after 12 days of relentless downpours, allows rescuers in Philippines capital reach distressed resident marooned in neck-high floods.

A man floats down a flooded street in Manila today.
A man floats down a flooded street in Manila today.

MANILA // Widespread flooding that killed at least 23 people, battered a million others and paralyzed the Philippine capital has briefly eased today, allowing rescuers on rubber boats to reach a large number of distressed residents still marooned in submerged towns and villages.

Government forecasters said the monsoon rains that overflowed major dams and rivers crisscrossing Manila and surrounding provinces would gradually abate and lead to sunny weather later this week after 12 days of relentless downpours. The deluge that began late Sunday is the worst since 2009, when hundreds died in rampaging flash floods.

"We're still on a rescue mode," said Benito Ramos, the head of the government's main disaster-response agency. "Floods are receding in many areas but people are still trapped on their roofs."

Mr Ramos said the massive flooding turned half of Manila into "a water world" on Monday evening and into yesterday. At least 23 died, including nine in a landslide in a hillside slum in suburban Quezon City and several others who drowned in outlying provinces.

More than 1.2 million people were affected by the deluge, including 783,000 who fled from their inundated homes. With the receding floodwaters, some of the displaced have started returning to their homes but others stayed put despite the hard conditions in emergency shelters as rain clouds again darkened the sky this afternoon.

Carmen Empesao said she panicked and left with her three grandchildren when waist-deep floodwaters swamped her home in the hard-hit city of Marikina, in Metro Manila.

"We fled without any food and the clothes we managed to grab were wet and cannot be worn," Mrs Empesao, 60, said in an evacuation centre among 3,000 others who are displaced.

Rescue efforts continue, with more than 130 emergency crewmen from two provinces reaching the capital of 12 million people to help their overwhelmed teams, including police and soldiers. Rescuers used rubber boats and ropes to navigate flooded streets where many people climbed on rooftops to escape neck-deep waters.

Food and drinking water were in short supply because of impassable roads. President Benigno Aquino III distributed food packs in flood-hit communities south of Manila.

Mr Ramos said he was overwhelmed by the extent of the flooding when he flew aboard a helicopter with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin for an inspection Wednesday, although he added that water in many areas was beginning to recede.

"In some areas, I could not tell the sea from the flooded villages," he said.

Manila was drenched with more than half of a month's worth of rain in just 24 hours starting on Monday. A typhoon in eastern China that has helped intensify the southwest monsoon in the Philippines blew further into the Chinese mainland, prompting Filipino forecasters to predict better weather the rest of the week.

"We may see the sun tomorrow," government forecaster Glaiza Escullar said. She added that heavy but brief downpours may still sporadically drench the coastal capital.

Although heavy rains may ease, she warned that up to three storms or typhoons were expected to lash the country this month.

At the height of the flooding, many residents called radio and TV stations desperately asking to be rescued. TV footage showed rescuers dangling on ropes to bring children and other residents to safety from a rooftop.

Vehicles and even heavy trucks struggled to navigate water-clogged roads, where hundreds of thousands of commuters were stranded.

The government suspended work and classes Tuesday but most offices opened Wednesday. Traffic was still light as workers began clearing roads of debris, rubbish and fallen trees.

In 2009, massive flooding spawned by a typhoon devastated Manila and surrounding areas, killing hundreds.