Rescuers deployed rubber boats while doctors fanned across cramped evacuation centers in the Philippines as the death toll from five days of flooding reached 23 yesterday, officials said.
Large farming towns north of the capital, Manila, as well as heavily populated coastal areas remained under waist deep floods, with television footage showing residents wading in muddy waters as they tried to seek safer shelters.
Meanwhile, health officials raised the alarm over a possible outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread by infected rat urine in flood waters, saying this could lead to a further spike in the death toll.
“We are appealing for help from the national government. Our town hall itself is submerged in waist deep water,” said Obando Mayor Orencio Gabriel on government radio as intermittent rains continued to pound many areas. “We are all under water here.”
Obando is a farming town of about 60,000 people 16km north of Manila where a major river system drains into Manila Bay.
However, high sea tides yesterday morning worsened the flooding by slowing down the flow of water into the bay, even as Typhoon Saola had already began bringing its fury northward to Taiwan.
“People are living in dire situations in evacuation centers and disease outbreaks are what could push the toll even higher,” said Carmencita Banatin, head of the department of health’s emergency management unit.
“We have rushed medicines and doctors to evacuation centers to begin immunizing and stave off any explosion of diseases,” she said.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila said nine more people were killed due to drowning and other accidents related to Saola, raising the toll to 23 overnight.
Saola had caused tidal surges that swept over seawalls and flooded huge parts of Manila on Wednesday, forcing schools to call off classes and flights to be grounded.
Close to 180,000 people had been evacuated from 90 towns and 22 cities, many of them crowding each other in school gyms converted into temporary shelters.
Banatin said said health workers were expecting an outbreak of leptospirosis, which has an incubation of about a week. The worst outbreak of the disease occurred in Manila in 2009, when a major storm submerged more than 80 percent of the city of 15 million.
Of the more than 3,300 cases of leptospirosis cases recorded then, 249 died, making it the biggest casualty figure for the disease in the world, according to government and WHO figures.
Meanwhile, the coast guard has rescued seven South Korean crewmen from a tugboat being battered by rough seas off the northwestern Philippines.
The skipper of the Kosco 202, Jeon Hong-jong, says he radioed for help before dawn yesterday after a barge his boat was towing sunk and the boat’s engine room started filling with water near Zambales province.
He says his boat was being tossed in the water for several hours by 5m to 6m waves whipped up by Saola before a coast guard vessel spotted them. They transferred by rubber boat to the ship, which brought them to Subic Bay Freeport about 20km away.
He says they were heading to Indonesia from Shanghai, China, to deliver the barge.
Additional reporting by AP