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At Least 15 Killed as Manila Suffers Worst Flood in Three Years

At Least 15 Killed as Manila Suffers Worst Flood in Three Years
A man tries to cross floodwaters by following a rope as other residents wait on the roofs of their houses after a river overflowed caused by torrential rains across Manila on August 7, 2012. Photographer: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

At least 15 people were killed as floodwaters swept across the main Philippine island of Luzon, paralyzing Manila and forcing 130,000 to flee their homes.

Floods caused by torrential rains spread across about 50 percent of metro Manila, an area half the size of Los Angeles, Jean Navarez from the state weather bureau said yesterday. Civil defense chief Benito Ramos said the storm may cause as much damage as Typhoon Ketsana, which killed more than 400 people when it swamped Manila and parts of Luzon in 2009.

“It looks like water world,” Ramos said during a televised media briefing in Manila. “This is unusual. There is no typhoon but this is causing so much trouble.”

The deluge crippled transport links in the capital, forcing the closure of schools, offices and financial markets. The government is monitoring districts threatened by landslides after being criticized for a slow response to previous natural disasters in the country, which is regularly battered by cyclones that form over the Pacific Ocean.

“They shouldn’t just respond to crises, they should prepare for them,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila said by phone. While President Benigno Aquino’s administration bought Doppler radar and enhanced forecasting, little improvement has been made to infrastructure, Casiple said.

Swollen Rivers

Three people drowned in Bulacan, north of Manila, Superintendent Noli Pacheco said yesterday. In Batangas, south of the capital, two children drowned while trying to cross a swollen river, provincial police spokeswoman Aleli Buaquen said. A landslide in Quezon City killed nine people, the government’s disaster risk reduction agency said, and a body was found along the Bued river in Pangasinan, north of Manila, according to a report from the regional police office.

Rain intensified as night fell, with the weather bureau recording 30 millimeters to 40 millimeters per hour in some parts of metro Manila.

Floodwaters submerged Barangay Tumana in Marikina and some of the town’s 25,000 residents were stranded on rooftops, Marikina Congressman Miro Quimbo said by phone. Landslides may threaten districts north of Manila, including Antipolo City in Rizal, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told ABS-CBN.

The rain will subside in the capital and nearby provinces today as Typhoon Haikui nears China, state weather forecaster Bernie de Leon said on dzMM radio.

Manila and Pampanga province were also rattled by an earthquake as a magnitude-5.3 temblor struck Occidental Mindoro province at 1:03 p.m., the local volcanology institute said. In metro Manila, almost 130,000 people fled their homes, said Susana Cruz, a member of the civil defense office.

Roads Cut

At least 15 main roads in Manila weren’t passable to all vehicles, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said in a televised briefing. Flooding near Laguna Lake may take as long as two months to subside, he said.

Malls operated by SM Prime Holdings Inc. are open wherever possible to provide people with necessities or shelter, the company said in a statement. Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and Globe Telecom Inc. canceled briefings on their second-quarter results yesterday. The government’s statistics office also postponed the July inflation report until tomorrow.

Philippine Airlines Inc. will airlift high-value relief goods for free from provinces to the capital, the company said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday.

The damage caused by typhoons and other disasters in 2011 reached 59.2 billion pesos ($1.42 billion), Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told lawmakers Aug. 6.

Agriculture Threatened

“Agriculture will take a hit, especially if the storm worsens and damage spreads to the rice-growing areas,” said Radhika Rao, an economist at Forecast Pte in Singapore. “We could see inflation head higher in the third quarter. The central bank will be mindful of loosening in September.”

The central bank last month cut interest rates a third time this year to a record low, as easing inflation gives policy makers scope to spur economic growth that led Southeast Asia at 6.4 percent in the first quarter. Standard & Poor’s last month raised the country’s debt rating to BB+, one level below investment grade, citing improved prospects for economic growth.

The deluge comes after tropical storm Saola killed 53 people and damaged farms and infrastructure last month, according to the disaster risk agency’s website.

In December, Aquino ordered a probe of the government’s response to Tropical Storm Washi, the most lethal tropical storm to hit the country since Typhoon Ketsana.

“This could be as bad as Ketsana if the floods persist,” Ramos said. “Right now, it’s a long way from that level.”

Urban Planning

The government must start with urban planning as a long-term solution to flooding in Manila, said Segundo Romero, a program director at the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government. “A number of people still live along rivers and under bridges, and we cannot stop them from living in these areas until we offer them alternatives,” he said by phone.

Military trucks and rubber boats were used to rescue residents in heavily flooded areas, Ramos said. The government has almost 6 billion pesos in funds available for relief and reconstruction, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said in a statement.

“We should maximize the efforts of distributing these resources,” Aquino said in a televised briefing. Some government resources in areas not affected by the monsoon should be shifted to the stricken areas, he said.

The U.S. will provide $100,000 to support relief efforts, its embassy in Manila said in an e-mailed statement.

Government Warnings

The government has improved forecasting using new equipment, and local governments appear to be more dedicated in rescue efforts, Romero said. “People seem to have more confidence in warnings issued by the government as a result,” he said.

Accumulated rainfall yesterday reached 472 millimeters in 22 hours, surpassing the 455 millimeters recorded in 24 hours during Ketsana, said Mahar Lagmay, director of the government’s flood forecasting effort, dubbed Project Noah.

“This is one of the worst in recent history,” Mario Palafox, a weather bureau forecaster, said by phone. “It’s been raining for more than nine days straight.”

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