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By Katherine Evangelista
Agence France-Presse, INQUIRER.net
First Posted 10:52:00 09/27/2009

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) At least 73 persons were killed and nearly 70,000 families were displaced by massive flooding after tropical storm Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) dumped the heaviest rainfall on Metro Manila in more than four decades, officials said Sunday.

As of 6p.m. Sunday, the National Disaster Coordinating Council also reported 69,513 families displaced and 337, 216 persons affected in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

In the province of Rizal, 23 persons were reported dead in Tanay; 10 in Angono, five in Baras and three from Montana. Nine people were reported killed in Bulacan and seven more in Metro Manila, according to the NDCC.

The provinces of Pampanga, Apayao, Batangas, Quezon, and Teresa town in Rizal also reported casualties.

The nine-hour deluge across Manila on Saturday submerged houses, washed away shanties and turned roads into raging rivers, forcing terrified residents to seek refuge on top of homes or cars where they waited for more than 24 hours.

"I am calling on our countrymen... to please stay calm," President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said, as she set a deadline of nightfall on Sunday for the military and other rescuers to save those who remained stranded.

The frantic rescue efforts saw military helicopters and rubber boats fan out across the sprawling city of 12 million residents to pluck people off houses and car roofs.

Meanwhile, a total of 9,601 families or 47,261 persons are taking shelter in 101 evacuations sites in affected areas, the NDCC said.

As of 11 a.m., a total of 5,146 stranded persons have been rescued by forces of the Philippine Coast Guard, the Metro Manila Development Authority, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine National Red Cross.

In Bulacan, 36 barangays (villages) in Marilao, Mecauayan, San Miguel, Bocaue, Sta. Maria, Calumpit, Bustos, and Norzagaray are heavily flooded while 33 villages in the municipalities of Guagua, Masantol, Ampalit, Lubao, Porac, Sto. Tomas, San Fernando, and San Simon in Pampanga were also reported to be flooded.

In Metro Manila, 45 barangays in the cities of Marikina, Malabon, Muntinlupa, Quezon, Makati, Pasay, Pasig, Valenzuela, and San Juan are still flooded, from under two feet to waist-deep, the NDCC said.

The Calabarzon region (composed of the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) suffered P95 million in crop damage due to typhoon Ondoy. Initial reports said P85 million was the damage to rice and P10 million to high-value commercial crops like coffee, pineapple, and sugarcane, according to Agriculture Undersecretary Emmanuel Paras.

Manila and surrounding areas were lashed with heavy rains for nine hours Saturday, leading to flash floods that inundated about 80 percent of the capital of more than 12 million inhabitants.

The deluge left some areas under up to 20 feet of water, stranding entire families on rooftops and forcing the government to declare a "state of calamity."

Highways were turned into raging rivers that swept away shanties and cars. Video footage from military helicopters showed desperate residents marooned on rooftops pleading for food and help.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, heading the rescue efforts, said 52 people had so far been killed with at least 21 still missing.

Teodoro said the storm had displaced nearly 300,000 people in Manila and five outlying provinces, with more than 41,000 people in 92 evacuation centers.

"We are continuing with our rescue operations for those who are still in need, coupled with a massive relief operation," said Teodoro.

While the rains have temporarily ceased, Teodoro said more flooding may hit northern provinces as reservoirs and dams could overflow.

"I am appealing on those in the path of the storm to follow our local officials," he said, adding that troops will forcibly evacuate those who refuse to leave their homes being threatened by floods.

He said the floodwaters and the large numbers of stranded vehicles were giving rescue units "a hard time" in reaching those affected.

And even though the rain eased on Sunday, rescuers said they feared the death toll may rise because receding flood waters could expose more bodies.

By Sunday afternoon, the helicopters and boats had rescued more than 5,000 people, but many others were frantically waiting for help while battling thirst and hunger.

"If you are on the roof, don't try to leave. Just remain there and we will do everything to rescue you," Teodoro said in a radio broadcast.

However many could not wait.

In Pasig City, one of the worst hit areas in eastern Manila, panicked residents were seen wading dangerously through neck-deep waters hoisting their children and belongings above their heads.

Others were left shocked and thankful just to have survived.

"We thought we were going to die," Rachelle Solis, 35, a banking executive who was with her two young children at a day-care center when the floods hit.

"The current was strong and we were nearly swept away. We held onto a rope... for dear life. I kept thinking this couldn't happen to me, not in Manila."

Adding to the chaos, telephone and power services were cut off in the worst-hit areas and patchy for other parts of Manila.

Some hospitals in the eastern part of the city had also been evacuated, while the international airport was closed during the worst of the storm on Saturday.

Power and communication lines went down in many areas but those who managed to get through to public radio stations told of their plight.

"Please come and get us. We have been marooned here since the afternoon," appealed Cristine Reyes, a resident in Marikina district late Saturday, who was marooned with her two young nephews and her mother on the second floor of the family home. "The water continues to go up, and soon we will be under water."

Local Red Cross executive director Gwendolyn Pang said rescuers struggled to reach many areas Saturday, with many highways rendered impassable.

"This has never happened before. Almost 80 percent of metropolitan Manila is under water," Pang told AFP.

The government's chief weather forecaster Prisco Nilo blamed "climate change" for the extreme weather but said he expected the weather to ease when the storm dies down Monday.

"The amount of rainfall in nine hours yesterday was more than the average monthly rainfall," Nilo told reporters.

He said that total rainfall for the period reached 410.6 millimeters (16 inches), breaking the previous single-day record of 334 millimeters in July 1967.

In Marikina Sunday, many residents remained on rooftops, as rescuers waded in muddy floodwaters, Red Cross official Dave Barnuevo said.

"The water is taking a long time to go down. The water is muddy and thick, and we have had to push our rubber boats in neck-deep flood (waters) in some areas," Barnuevo told AFP.

"We have rescued entire families marooned in their homes. They have not eaten and begged for food and water," he said.