MANILA – At least a third of this overpopulated capital and its suburbs were submerged on Tuesday as torrential rains battered the city and floodwaters poured in from almost all sides. A silted lake in the south sent water coursing into an overflowing river that slices through Manila; water poured from the open floodgates of a dam to the north, and high tide brought flooding from the bay to the west.
The combination kept rescue workers in rubber boats struggling to pluck panicked people from rushing waters that sometimes swirled around their necks and turned major roads into virtual rivers.
More than 50 people have already died in more than a week of intense storms, monsoon rains and flooding, and at least 250,000 have been evacuated in just the past several days, officials said.
Photographs of some of the hardest-hit areas showed people clutching ropes and whatever else they could to keep from being swept away in fast currents; one man clung to the top of a metal pole that once supported a basketball hoop. Another photo showed dozens of people under a sea of umbrellas waiting in waist-deep water for trapped relatives to be rescued from their homes.
Television networks and radio stations reported receiving frantic calls from people unable to flee their homes, according to The Associated Press. One of them, Josephine Cruz, told DZMM radio that she was trapped in her two-story house with 11 other people, including her 83-year-old mother.
“We need to be rescued,” she said, according to the news service. “We can’t get out because the floodwaters are now higher than people.”
A state of emergency was declared in nine provincial areas near Manila, setting government relief efforts in motion. And for much of the day Tuesday, the only major highway linking Manila to the north of the country was flooded and closed to traffic.
The flooding is the worst to hit the area since two storms in 2009 killed more than 900 people.
On Monday, the government said up to half of the city and its environs were under water. On Tuesday, officials said some of the storm waters had receded, but heavy rains continued, leaving open the possibility that floods would again claim more of the city.
Schools and business and government offices were ordered closed, although Manila’s main business districts were largely spared, in part because they have well-maintained drainage systems, unlike slum areas.
Richard Gordon, chairman of the Red Cross of the Philippines, described a perilous situation for rescuers, many of whom were using rafts and makeshift boats to traverse flooded slums.
“We have areas where our people can’t get in because there are live wires in the water,” Mr. Gordon said. “They face the risk of electrocution.”
He added, “We just have to grin and bear it and do our best to rescue people.”
In Quezon City, just northeast of Manila, nine people, including three children, were killed Tuesday when a landslide caused by heavy rain buried a slum.
As rescuers frantically tried to dig people out, Jessie Bailon stared at a muddy mound where his shanty had stood. “My wife, children and grandchild are down there,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
Manila is particularly vulnerable to flooding. The metropolitan area, which has a population of more than 10 million, sits in a low-lying area between a large lake and the ocean. The lake, Laguna de Bay, at the south of the city, drains to the ocean via the Pasig River, which runs through the center of town. The lake and the river are heavily silted and prone to overflowing their banks.
Waters behind the major dam north of the city, which supplies much of Manila’s water, also crested in recent days, compelling officials to open floodgates. In addition, the bay beside Manila has swelled during high tide in recent days.
The flooding provoked fears of a repeat of the typhoons Ketsana and Parma, which struck within a week in 2009. Those storms caused flooding that affected more than nine million people and killed 929, according to the government disaster relief agency.
Mr. Gordon, the Red Cross official, said he did not expect the situation to become as bad as that.
“I feel a little positive that the sun will come out tomorrow,” he said. “We are trying to be positive, but a lot of people are suffering tonight.”
Source: NY Times