Widespread flooding that killed at least 23 people, battered a million others and paralyzed the Philippine capital briefly eased on Wednesday, allowing rescuers on rubber boats to reach a large number of distressed residents still marooned in submerged 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 was the worst since 2009, when hundreds died in rampaging flash floods.
“We’re still on a rescue mode,” said Benito Ramos, who heads the government’s main disaster—response agency. “Floods are receding in many areas but people are still trapped on their roofs.”
Ramos said the massive flooding turned half of Manila into “a water world” on Monday evening and into Tuesday. 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 Wednesday 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.
“We fled without any food and the clothes we managed to grab were wet and cannot be worn,” Empesao, 60, told The Associated Press in an evacuation centre teeming with 3,000 displaced.
Rescue efforts shifted into high gear Wednesday, with more than 130 emergency crewmen from two provinces reaching the capital city 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.
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 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, trash and fallen trees.
In 2009, massive flooding spawned by a typhoon devastated Manila and surrounding areas, killing hundreds.