MORE than 53,000 people were in evacuation centres in the Philippines tonight after fleeing their homes following days of torrential rains caused by Tropical Storm Meari, officials said.
More than 7000 people fled their homes last night in the capital Manila alone as the storm added to seasonal monsoon rains, bringing massive flooding to city streets, the civil defence agency said.
The swift evacuation of Manila residents as the waters rose overnight prevented any deaths, said Benito Ramos, executive director of the official National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
“It is a good thing we pre-positioned rubber boats. Thankfully, people reacted well. When we told them to evacuate, they evacuated,” Ramos said.
However 11 people were still missing in or near the less-developed Bicol peninsula southeast of Manila, which bore the brunt of Meari as it brushed past the eastern side of the country, the council added.
The missing included 10 fishermen who ventured out to sea from the island of Catanduanes before Meari struck, and a woman swept away by flash flooding in another part of Bicol, the council said.
Adding to the growing fear, a whirlwind hit a suburb of Manila today, knocking over trees and electrical posts and ripping the roofs off several houses but causing no injuries, the civil defence office said.
Government weather forecaster Jori Loiz said that the whirlwind was not related to the storm or the heavy rains.
The rains, which have been falling for most of the week, intensified yesterday, forcing people to flee their homes in fear of floods and landslides.
Government offices were closed and and most schools in and around Manila cancelled classes today due to the flooding, with debris blocking many streets, authorities said.
Over two dozen flights out of Manila were also cancelled.
President Benigno Aquino’s office issued a statement congratulating the relief agencies for minimising casualties in Manila and calling on the public to continue cooperating with them.
“As we undertake the cleanup and repair of the metropolis, this is a harsh reminder of the increasing challenges erratic weather patterns will bring in their wake because of global warming,” the palace statement said.
Science Department Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said that rain would further intensify over the main island of Luzon where Manila is located, even though the storm was moving away from the Philippines towards Taiwan.
The government weather station reported that Meari had strengthened as it moved northwest towards Taiwan, with gusts of 100km/h.