MANILA Deadly torrential rains submerged much of the Philippine capital and surrounding areas on Tuesday, forcing nearly 270,000 people to flee their homes with more flooding expected in the north of the country as a tropical storm passes through the region, officials said.
Steady rains for the past 10 days, killing more than 50 people, are set to continue until Wednesday, the Philippines weather bureau said, fuelled by tropical storm "Haikui" in the Philippine Sea northeast of Taiwan. The storm is headed for China's Zhejiang province where more than 250,000 people have been evacuated ahead of expected landfall late on Wednesday.
"It's like Waterworld," said Benito Ramos, head of the Philippines national disaster agency, referring to a Hollywood movie about a flooded world.
Schools, financial markets, and public and private offices were ordered shut, including outsourcing firms whose corporate clients are mainly from the United States and Europe.
Disaster officials said over half of Manila was swamped by floods as high as three meters, worsened by a high tide and the release of water from dams in surrounding provinces.
President Benigno Aquino, in an emergency meeting briefly interrupted by a power failure at the main army base in Manila, ordered officials to exert maximum effort to aid residents in flooded areas. Officials have deployed army troops, police and emergency workers with rubber boats and amphibious trucks.
The monsoon rains, which dumped about 300 mm (12 inches) or three times the daily average of 80-100 mm from late Monday to Tuesday, were the heaviest in three years, the weather bureau said.
Typhoon Ketsana, which swamped 80 percent of the capital in 2009, aided a monsoon downpour of more than 450 mm (18 inches) in a 24-hour period.
MAJOR ROADS INUNDATED
Most major roads in Manila were inundated by knee- to waist-deep floodwaters. Some flights were delayed or canceled. Power, water and communications in flooded areas were disrupted.
Some of the affected residents were marooned on the roofs of their houses.
"There are about 5,000 people here," said Ester Ronabio, a public school teacher and volunteer in one of the temporary shelter areas in low-lying Marikina City in the eastern part of Manila. "We can't control the flow of people."
In a sign of the difficult scramble to move people to safety, Aquino appealed to an anti-graft court to release dozens of rubber boats held as evidence in a case against senior police officials for use in evacuation efforts.
Residents of Manila expressed concern the rains were a repeat of Typhoon Ketsana which killed more than 700 people and destroyed $1 billion worth of private and public property.
"The floods are so deep where we live, we don't want a repeat of Typhoon Ketsana a few years ago," Melanio David, a father of four, told Reuters. "We got scared so we evacuated last night."
($1 = 41.8500 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco and Ed Lane)