One dead as tropical storm flooding paralyses Philippine capital

Karl MALAKUNAS
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A woman is escorted on a makeshift raft along a flooded street during heavy rains brought on by tropical Storm Fung-Wong in Manila on September 19, 2014

Tens of thousands of people fled roof-high floods and one girl drowned in the Philippine capital on Friday as another vicious storm swept across the disaster-plagued country.

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.

Fung-Wong's winds were relatively light, with recorded maximum speeds of 85 kilometres (40 miles) an hour as it brushed past the northeast tip of the main island of Luzon around noon (0400 GMT).

However it brought heavy downpours of more than three weeks' worth overnight Thursday across Manila, more than 400 kilometres to the south, state weather forecaster Gener Quitlong told AFP.

The hardest-hit area appeared to be the Marikina river valley in eastern Manila, where brown, swiftly flowing water rose at least a storey high on heavily populated communities near its banks.

Rescuers aboard rubber dinghies, some motorised 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 bonnet of a stranded military truck that appeared to have been disabled, while the roofs of cars and other smaller vehicles bobbed above the floodwaters.

- Waters rising -

The 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," lawyer Ghelynne del Rosario told AFP, 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 neighbour'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 cancelled 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.