Metro Manila residents waded through waist-deep floodwaters and dodged flying debris yesterday as a powerful typhoon struck the Philippines, killing at least 12 people and sending waves as tall as palm trees crashing over seawalls.
Most deaths occurred in Metro Manila, which was already soaked by heavy monsoon rains ahead of Typhoon Nesat’s arrival with more downpours and wind gusts of up to 150kph. Downtown areas along Manila Bay suffered their worst flooding in decades.
Pounding rains obscured the view of anyone on the streets as soldiers and police scrambled to safely evacuate thousands of people in low-lying areas, where rivers and the sea spilled into shanties, hospitals, swanky hotels and even the seaside US embassy compound.
The massive flooding came exactly a day after the sprawling, coastal metropolis of 12 million held two-year commemorations for the nearly 500 people killed during a 2009 cyclone, which dumped a month’s rainfall in just 12 hours. The geography of the archipelago makes it a welcome mat for about 20 storms and typhoons from the Pacific each year.
Nesat came ashore before dawn yesterday in eastern provinces and headed inland just north of Manila with up to 2.5cm of rain per hour, half that of the storm two years ago, government forecaster Samuel Duran said.
Emergency workers evacuated river areas in Metro Manila that are notorious for flooding. In all, authorities ordered more than 100,000 people across the country to shelter from the storm’s sustained winds of up to 120kph and its rains — dropping from an immense 650km cloud band.
Along downtown Manila’s historic baywalk, cars and buses were stuck and residents struggled through floodwaters as waves washed over the seawall, turning a six-lane highway into a huge brown river. Sidewalks and building entrances were swamped.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, on a state visit to Japan, told Associated Press Television News he was confident that authorities were adequately responding to flooding. He said he believed power would be restored to most of Metro Manila by yesterday afternoon.
However, most of downtown was in darkness as night fell and cellphone coverage was interrupted.
The first reported death was a one-year-old boy who drowned in the province of Catanduanes after falling into a creek, the government disaster agency reported. As the typhoon’s winds lashed Metro Manila, a mother and child were killed when their house was hit by a falling tree, and four were reported killed by a collapsing wall.
Two others drowned, while a man was buried in a landslide in Olongapo and another died in a traffic collision. A nine-year-old girl was pinned to death when a tree fell on a house in Pampanga province, regional disaster response official Josefina Timeteo said.
Four fishermen were missing, while more than 50 others were rescued along eastern shores after their boats overturned in choppy seas. Forecasters warned of 4m high waves.
The storm was expected to leave the Philippines late yesterday and head into the South China Sea toward southern China.