At least three people have died in the Philippines after torrential rain engulfed parts of the main island of Luzon, including Manila where neck-deep water swept through homes forcing thousands into emergency shelters.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said mountainous areas to the north of the island were experiencing floods of 1.8m, following persistent rain that began at the weekend.
One person was killed in a storm-related car accident in the northern Apayao mountain region while a child was crushed by a collapsing wall and a man drowned in towns just outside the capital.
Four other people are missing, including three washed away by floods and overflowing rivers and a local female tourist who got lost while exploring a cave in the northern resort town of Sagada.
Schools, government offices and the stock exchange in Manila closed as a red alert was raised in the morning, the highest level of a warning system in which widespread floods are predicted.
“We are trying to save whatever we can, but it was so sudden,” J.R Pascual, a father-of-four, said as he tried to take the most important possessions from his home that was flooded up to his waist.
“My neighbor wasn’t even able to get his car out,” he said.
Pascual lives in a middle-class district of Cavite, a coastal area that is about 15km from the heart of Manila.
Roads from Cavite and other southern areas into the city were impassable, while some motorists who tried to get through the flooded streets were forced to abandon their cars.
Footage on ABS-CBN TV showed people in nearby shanty town communities standing on their corrugated iron roofs, as fast-moving water swept through the windows of their homes.
By early afternoon, the rain had eased and the red alert was lowered for the capital.
One of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s top aides said he did not expect a major disaster.
“Compared to other calamities, this is not of the same gravity as the rest. I hope this will be done by tomorrow,” Philippine Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa told a nationally televised government disaster briefing.
Nevertheless, thousands of people were believed to be sheltering in evacuation centers or trapped on rooftops while waiting for the water to subside.
Weather forecasters also said more rain was expected to hit Manila in the early evening, while farming towns and mountainous areas reaching hundreds of kilometers to the north on the main island of Luzon were enduring heavier storms.
The flooding was due to the normal monsoon being exacerbated by Tropical Storm Trami, which was causing problems despite being more than 500km from the Philippines, weather forecasters said.
Chaotic urban planning is widely blamed for exacerbating the impacts of storms in Manila and other parts of the country, which has had to deal with massive population growth over the past generation.