MANILA Heavy rains pounded the Philippines capital on Wednesday, prompting a new danger alert as emergency workers rushed food, water and clothes to almost one million people through streets turned into rivers after 11 straight days of monsoon downpour.
About 60 percent of Manila, a metropolis of about 12 million people, remained inundated, Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster agency, told Reuters.
Danger to the population was compounded by an early Wednesday evening one-hour downpour of 54.7 mm (2.15 inches), just shy of a record one-hour soaking of 56.58 mm in September 2009 that inundated the capital, killing more than 700 people and causing $1 billion worth of property damage.
The weather bureau issued a new weather alert as the downpour hit, only hours after lifting an earlier warning. But many people have refused to leave flooded homes, fearing a loss of valuables and livelihoods, Ramos said.
"We're also asking people living along swollen riverbanks to evacuate," Ramos said. "If there is a need for us to force them to leave their homes, we will do that for their own safety."
Nineteen people were reported killed since Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 72 since steady rains started when Typhoon Saola hit northern portions of the main Luzon island in late July.
Financial markets reopened after being shut on Tuesday, but schools and many businesses shut for a second day. Some public offices suspended operations on Wednesday afternoon.
Jesse Robredo, the interior secretary, said the government has started drawing up plans to permanently relocate residents along riverbanks and coastal areas to reduce property and human losses during the rest of the typhoon and monsoon season.
The national disaster agency said on Wednesday morning that at least 850,000 people were stranded or displaced, many seeking relief at crowded temporary shelter areas.
"We were hoping to go home because it's difficult here. The sleeping conditions are not comfortable, and it's not easy to get food," Joyce Anne Diri, a mother of three, told Reuters at a temporary shelter in flooded Marikina City in the eastern part of the capital.
The seasonal monsoon rains in the Philippines gathered strength this year from Typhoon Saola and as tropical storm Haikui travelled through the Philippine Sea this week. But the rains should dissipate by Thursday, the weather bureau said, as Haikui made landfall in China.
The combination of constant rains and an overflowing lake that fed into the Pasig River, a tidal estuary swollen well beyond flood crest, was made worse as the high tide pushed in more water from the western ocean bay.
"We're still concerned about the situation in the coastal areas," Ramos said after conducting an aerial survey of hard-hit areas. "It was difficult to distinguish the sea from the flood waters."
Four provinces near Manila were placed under a state of calamity, including the key rice-growing provinces of Bataan and Pampanga.
The farm department estimates the damage so far to crops, mainly rice, at 152 million pesos ($3.6 million).
($1 = 41.85 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco and Ed Lane)