Floods bring Philippine capital to standstill

Torrential rains brought the Philippines capital to a standstill Tuesday, forcing at least 20,000 people to flee their homes as floodwaters covered half the sprawling city, authorities said.

Schools, financial markets and most government and private offices were shut as key roadways in Manila -- a metropolis of some 15 million people -- were submerged by waters that in some areas reached neck-deep.

Residents of low-lying slums fled the huge shantytowns lining Manila's rivers and sewers for the safety of schools, gymnasiums and government buildings as the downpour generated by seasonal monsoons struck overnight.

Army trucks hauled stranded residents from their homes, while enterprising children fashioned crude rafts out of scrap wood and banana tree trunks and charged people to ferry them around.

Power was turned off in some parts of the capital as a precautionary measure as the waters seeped into electrical facilities, the city's power distributor said.

In some areas of the city, people were trapped on the second floor of their houses by the fast-rising waters, said Cora Agulan of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

She said there were many calls for help but in some areas it was too dangerous for rescuers to try to reach those stranded.

"The current is too strong so we have to tie our rubber boats with ropes to keep them from being swept away," she said.

Rosario Brutas, a market vendor in Bacoor, a town south of Manila, said she and her husband woke on Tuesday to discover their home already partly submerged.

"We woke up before dawn to find our bed afloat," the 32-year-old told AFP from a hospital courtyard where her family and their neighbours had taken refuge.

Bad weather from seasonal southwest monsoons has pounded Manila and nearby areas for over a week since Typhoon Saola brushed past the country's north.

Before the latest deluge, the death toll from eight days of sustained rains had reached 53 with more than 268,000 people forced to flee their homes across the country, according to disaster authorities.

No new casualties were reported from the overnight rains.

But Jean Navarez from the state weather service warned that the floods could worsen as the La Mesa dam, Manila's sole reservoir, began letting off water that would swell surrounding rivers.

"If we put it in a percentage, at least 50 percent of Metro Manila is flooded," she told AFP.

"There will be heavy rainfall for the next 24 hours. The floods will increase," she added.

Government weather forecaster Bernie de Leon said that in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning, 323 millimetres (13 inches) of rain fell on the capital, compared to average monthly rainfall of 504 millimetres for August.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said that while some 20,000 people fled to evacuation centres overnight, many more sought refuge in relatives' homes.

The La Mesa dam overflow and a high tide on Manila Bay conspired to worsen the flooding, it said.

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