By FLOYD WHALEY September 19, 2014
MANILA — The worst flooding to hit Manila this year brought the city of 12 million to a standstill on Friday, killing at least one person and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of others.
The deluge turned some of Manila’s low-lying streets into raging rivers and sent people onto rooftops as water levels rose above 10 feet in some parts of the city. Disaster relief officials used rafts to rescue families and to enforce mandatory evacuations from high-risk areas. Officials said one child drowned.
The flooding was brought about by a tropical storm, Fung-wong, called Mario in the Philippines, which brought 53-mile-per-hour winds to the area north of Manila on the island of Luzon. The storm was expected to leave the country by early Saturday, then turn toward Taiwan and Japan.
Relief officials said on Friday that more than 500,000 people had been evacuated or otherwise affected by the storm. At least 25 domestic and international flights were canceled or diverted from Manila’s airport, and schools, offices and government agencies closed across the city. Electricity was cut to much of the city as a precaution.
Though the storm passed north of the capital, it enhanced seasonal rains and dumped about 10 inches of rain onto the city in a 24-hour period, national weather agency officials said. The water level of the Marikina River, which runs east of Manila and is in a flood-prone area that pours water into the city, rose more than 20 feet during the storm.
Throughout the city, people struggled to move through fast-rising water, forming makeshift processions and holding on to ropes to get through waist-high floodwaters. Cars and trucks were abandoned in the deluge as drivers swam for safety. Some residents clung to belongings and refused to leave their homes and go to crowded evacuation centers.
The Philippines is hit by about 20 tropical storms a year. When those storms coincide with the annual monsoon season, Manila is often inundated. The city tends to flood even during routine rainstorms, but when the precipitation is enhanced by powerful cyclones, catastrophic deluges can occur.
“It’s the lay of the land,” said Mahar Lagmay, a professor at the University of the Philippines who advises the government on disasters. “The metropolis has been built on top of flood plains and riverbeds. When we have this much rainfall, Mother Nature reclaims her rivers and the land and drives us off.”
“Building in these low-lying areas is like pitching a tent on a highway when no cars are coming,” he said.
The flooding on Friday disrupted transportation services throughout Luzon, with bus service into Manila canceled. Seven ships and more than 700 passengers were stranded at ports after the coast guard stopped maritime traffic because of high winds.
In September 2009, Tropical Storm Ketsana, called Ondoy in the Philippines, added to seasonal rains and brought flooding to Manila that killed more than 700 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Last November, Typhoon Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines, killed more than 6,000 people in provincial areas south of Manila.
This article was originally published in The New York Times on September 19, 2014.