TENS of thousands of people fled roof-high floods that killed four people on Friday as tropical storm “Mario” swept across the Philippines, marooning Metro Manila and forcing officials to shut government offices, financial markets and schools in the capital and nearby areas.
Officials said two people died in Quezon City, one in Rizal and one in Caloocan City, and all of drowning.
The weather bureau said Mario—international name Fung-Wong—dumped rain equivalent to three weeks of rainfall in just 12 hours.
At 9 am the agency said Manila and the provinces of Rizal and Bulacan were under the highest rainfall warning of red, which means “severe flooding is expected.”
Many streets in Manila were flooded, while most of the routes leading to it were also under water, hence cutting it off from the suburbs and stranding thousands of people.
Manila Electric Co. cut off power in many areas in Metro Manila due to the floods to ensure its customers’ safety.
At least six international flights were diverted to Cebu and Clark in Pampanga as a result of the weather.
Disaster officials said 104,339 families or nearly half a million people were affected by the floods and heavy rainfall, and of that number 10,852 families or 40,039 people were staying in 63 evacuation centers nationwide.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development said more than 1,200 families were in evacuation centers in Metro Manila and several provinces.
Rescue workers in trucks and rubber dinghies plucked residents from the tops of flooded homes after one of Manila’s major rivers burst its banks, swamping heavily populated eastern districts.
“We’re dealing with floods over a large area. Our local as well as national responders are out there leading the rescue operations,” Mina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told AFP.
She said the first known fatality was a girl who drowned at a flooded slum in northern Manila.
Mario’s winds were relatively light, with recorded maximum speeds of 85 kilometers an hour as it brushed past the northeast tip of Luzon around noon.
However, it brought heavy downpours of more than three weeks’ worth overnight Thursday across Manila, more than 400 kilometers to the south, state weather forecaster Gener Quitlong told AFP.
The hardest-hit area appeared to be the Marikina River valley, where brown, swiftly flowing waters rose at least a story high on heavily populated communities near its banks.
Rescuers aboard rubber dinghies, some motorized and some powered by paddles, plucked people from flooded homes, an AFP reporting team saw.
People held on to lengths of rope to get to high ground safely and avoid being pulled by the strong currents.
Two soldiers involved in the rescue sat on the hood of a stranded military truck that appeared to have been disabled, while the roofs of cars and other smaller vehicles bobbed above the floodwaters.
Marikina Mayor, Del de Guzman, told local ABS-CBN television that at least 27,000 of his constituents had to be evacuated.
“The scenario is getting worse. The flood waters are rising. Our rescue teams are stranded in major thoroughfares,” Kit Nieto, mayor of the nearby district of Cainta, where 7,000 other people were evacuated, told the station.
In all, flooding had forced at least 50,000 people to flee their homes in and around Manila, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told a news conference.
“I am angry that I have to do this each time it rains hard,” said lawyer Ghelynne del Rosario whose northern Manila bungalow was swamped by chest-deep floods.
Cradling her dog, she said she, her mother and grandmother—who is in her eighties—waded through the water at daybreak to reach safety on the second floor of a neighbor’s house, with her two other dogs swimming alongside her.
An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, killing hundreds and bringing misery to millions.
Super typhoon Haiyan, the strongest ever to hit land, left 7,300 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November last year.
The government declared a school holiday Friday and sent home government employees not involved in rescue operations and medical emergencies, while financial markets closed down.
Manila airport authorities canceled 21 domestic flights, with six international flights also diverted elsewhere in the country due to bad weather, they said in a statement.
A thoroughly drenched office clerk Alyssa Aldea, 22, decided to return home after finding the street outside her Manila office blocked by knee-deep floods.
“I’d rather not get paid than get sick” by wading through the floodwaters, she told AFP as she contemplated a long bus commute back home.
Mario weakened slightly as it crossed the Babuyan Channel late Friday afternoon after making landfall over Cagayan around noon.
But disaster officials said the torrential rain spawned by the storm would continue falling until midnight.
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