US troops on a training mission in the Philippines lent their rubber boats yesterday to help thousands of villagers escape waist-deep floodwaters that have inundated a southern island, killing at least five people.
A weeklong downpour culminated in raging flash floods that surged through the streets of Jolo’s coastal provincial capital on Thursday night, sweeping away stilt houses and damaging hundreds of homes, officials and residents said.
The floodwaters and sea surges reached 1.8m in some areas, the Red Cross reported.
At least five people were killed, including two children, Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin said.
“In my 13 years in politics, I have never experienced anything like what happened last night,” Amin said.
“We are calling on all good Samaritans to extend support to the people of Jolo,” he said.
US troops stationed at Jolo airport, which remained open, joined Philippine marines and civilian volunteers in rubber boats to rescue some of those trapped.
Hundreds of US troops have been training Filipino soldiers who battle Muslim militants hiding in the jungles of Jolo and on nearby islands.
“The water was too deep in some areas that even our trucks could not reach these areas so we had to deploy rubber boats,” said Colonel Remigio Valdez, a Philippine marine brigade commander on Jolo.
The town of Jolo “is like a catch basin surrounded by mountains so the water from the rains just surged down the slopes into town,” Valdez said.
Amin said the floods have affected about 3,500 people in the town, which has a population of about 150,000. He said he ordered the distribution of rice porridge to those in need because shops were closed and the commercial center flooded.
Electricity was cut off and vessels stayed away from the island’s port because of big waves.