Philippines Appeals for Help as 80% of Manila Flooded
MANILA, Philippines, September 28, 2009 (ENS) - Overwhelmed Philippine authorities appealed for international aid today as floods brought by Typhoon Ketsana, locally called Ondoy, killed 140 people and displaced more than 116,000 others. At least 32 people are still missing.

The storm, packing maximum winds at the center of 85 kph (53 mph) and gusts of up to 120 kph (75 mph), hit the main island of Luzon near the town of Infanta at about 10 am Saturday local time, said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration.

A combination of the storm and monsoon rains has left 80 percent of the city under water, the worst flooding to hit Manila in more than four decades. Within only six hours a staggering 35 to 55 centimetres (13 to 21 inches) of rain fell on the area, an amount equivalent to a typical month's rainfall in the monsoon season.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, in white hat, inspects flooded areas of metro Manila. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)

Power and phone services are still out in some areas of metro Manila, a city of 12 million people, and more rain has been forecast.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo described Ondoy as a "once-in-a-lifetime" storm, "an extreme event that has strained our response capabilities to the limit."

"But it is not breaking us," she said. Still, today the government acknowledged it is unable to deal with the calamity without urgent help.

In a briefing televised across the country today, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said, "We are appealing for international humanitarian assistance. The potential for a more serious situation is there and we cannot wait for that to happen."

President Arroyo today moved out of her office at Malacanang Palace to make way for the use of the palace as a national relief center.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters that Mrs. Arroyo had decided to "house" in Malacanang some of the displaced people. Priority will be given to Malacanang personnel who were also flood victims as well as other people who need shelters.

Temporarily, the President will work out of her office in the Presidential Security Group Park on the other side of the Pasig River.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council says 7,908 people have been rescued to date, with the help of U.S. armed forces. But with the threat of disease in disaster zones and relief workers short of supplies, officials said they are having trouble coping with the demands of the situation.

"We are concentrating on massive relief operations. The system is overwhelmed, local government units are overwhelmed," NDCC chief Anthony Golez, told reporters.

Red Cross Search and rescue team, joined here by PNRC Chairman Senator Richard Gordon, saved more than 400 people from rooftops and high walls. (Photo courtesy IFRC)

The NDCC declared a State of Calamity in the regions where the storm has flooded villages and roads, in some cases submerging entire homes. The government estimates that a total of 435,000 persons have been affected.

World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr. Shin Young-soo, says WHO will provide PHP 2 million (US$42,000) to support health needs in the wake of the floods.

Health threats include diseases such as leptospirosis and diarrhea, acute respiratory infection and wound infection. Health care waste management is also a priority.

Public and private hospitals were flooded in the storm and many are inaccessible, said Dr. Shin. Many hospital staff are not able to report for work because of the impact of floods on their own families and homes.

The United States sent US$50,000 dollars for relief efforts, China contributed $10,000, while Singapore offered $30,000 and a further $20,000 in seed money to a fund-raising drive by the Red Cross. Japan announced a contribution of $220,000 dollars worth of relief goods.

President Arroyo today ordered an immediate investigation of the Mount Arayat landslide that killed 13 people and rendered scores of families homeless there.

Tons of mud, rocks and debris cascaded down Mount Arayat Saturday, burying the victims’ homes at the foot of Mt. Arayat National Park on Luzon Island.

The President instructed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Philippine National Police and the local governments to investigate the cause of the landslide and to present their findings to her immediately.

Deputy spokesperson Lorelie Fajardo said the tragedy should serve as a lesson to deter everyone from putting up houses just anywhere, including places not meant to be residential areas. In an interview Sunday at the St. John Chapel, where the victims of the tragedy lay in state, Fajardo said the landslide was a tragedy waiting to happen.

President Arroyo visits flood survivors. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)

After viewing the damage in Cainta and Malabon, two of the worst hit-cities in the National Capital Region, President Arroyo visited the families who lost loved ones in the landslide.

Manuel dela Cruz, who suffered the loss of his entire family, told the President how he watched in horror as his mother Catalina, 86, his wife Sherly, 31, who was pregnant with their fifth child and their four children Manilyn, 12, Marlon, 11, Maryan, 10, and Mcgyver, 6, were swallowed up by the landslide.

The President offered condolences, checks and relief supplies to the survivors.

During a National Disaster Coordinating Council emergency meeting in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Saturday night, President Arroyo ordered all Cabinet officials to mobilize their departments and offices and help in the ongoing rescue and relief operations.

She asked Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza to ensure the 24-hour operation of the Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit during calamity.

"We shall manage our way out of this latest natural calamity. Let us band together and look out for each other in the finest Filipino tradition of caring and sharing," President Arroyo said.

Typhoon Ketsana is now headed towards Vietnam. Authorities have warned fishermen not to go to the sea and sent officials to coastal areas to lead evacuation and emergency relief work. The Vietnam National Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have evacuated 1,200 people, including children and the elderly, and warned communities prone to flooding to prepare for the worst.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.