Flooding caused by some of the Philippines’ heaviest rain on record has seen more than half of its capital city, Manila, submerged in water.
The government has suspended all work except rescues and disaster response for a second day as tens of thousands of people were trapped in homes and shelters.
At least seven people have died, including four who drowned north of Manila yesterday. There were no reports of fresh fatalities today.
The dead included a five-year-old boy whose house was hit by a concrete wall that collapsed, and a three-year-old boy who fell into a swollen river in Mariveles town in Bataan province. Four people are missing.
Throughout the sprawling, low-lying capital region of 12 million people, offices, banks and schools were closed and most roads were impassable.
People stumbled through waist- or neck-deep water, holding on to ropes strung from flooded houses.
More than 200 evacuation centres were opened in Manila and surrounding provinces, filled with tens of thousands of people, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said.
Overall, more than 600,000 people have been affected by the floods.
“I had to wade through waist-deep flood. I just need to go to the house of my boss... to get some money, then go home,” said Esteban Gabin, a 45-year-old driver, who was plotting the best route to check on his family in Pampanga province, north-west of Manila. “But I may have to swim to reach my home because we live near the Pampanga River, and the flood there could reach up to neck deep.”
As the weather gradually improved in Manila, the concern shifted to provinces outside the capital which were expected to be drenched as the monsoon travels north.
In Pampanga’s rice-producing town of Minalin, more than 200 villagers fled after water from a swollen river spilled over a dyke and began flooding communities amid pounding rain. Villagers scrambled to lay sandbags on the dyke and in front of their houses, said Office of Civil Defence officer Nigel Lontoc.
“The villagers are afraid that the dyke may collapse anytime,” he said by phone.
Evacuations were also under way around the La Mesa dam, north of Manila, which began overflowing because of excess water.
The water from the dam flows into the Tullahan River, which passes through some of the densely populated areas of the capital.
The flooding followed two nights of heavy monsoon rain, enhanced by Tropical Storm Trami. The storm hovered over the North Philippine Sea and drenched the main northern island of Luzon with 1.2in (30mm) of rain per hour.
It is forecast to move away from the Philippines toward Taiwan tomorrow.
In many coastal towns along swollen Lake Laguna, near Manila, and in food-growing riverside provinces, residents were trapped on rooftops, waded through the streets or drifted on makeshift rafts. Many chose to stay close to their homes for fear they would be looted if they left.
Floodwater had subsided but heavy overnight rain repeated the deluge.
Flooding has become more frequent in Manila because of deforestation of mountains, clogged waterways and canals where large squatter communities live, and poor urban planning.
“We’re surprised by the rainfall. Some areas experienced record levels,” said Science Secretary Mario Montejo.
According to an assessment from the Department of Science and Technology, rainfall reached 23.6in (600mm) in and around Manila Bay on Sunday alone – more than a month’s worth of rain in a day.
That compares with the disastrous 2009 Typhoon Ketsana, the strongest cyclone to hit Manila in modern history with 17.9in (455mm) of rain in 24 hours.
Many domestic and international flights at Ninoy Aquino International Airport were cancelled. Key roads leading to the airport were flooded and passengers and crew were inevitably delayed.
The Philippine archipelago is among the most battered by rainstorms in the world. About 20 tropical cyclones hit the country every year.