Philippines: Monsoon rains and storms drench Northern provinces

23 Aug 2013

August 2013, Manila, Philippines: Heavy monsoon rains, exacerbated by a series of tropical storms, have battered the northern Philippines. On 19 August, 60 per cent of Metro Manila was under water as the average monthly rainfall for August fell in just one day. Credit: OCHA
Heavy monsoon rains, exacerbated by a series of tropical storms, have battered the northern Philippines, claiming 16 lives and forcing the evacuation of more than 380,000 people.

Heavy monsoon rains, exacerbated by a series of tropical storms triggered major flooding across the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, claiming 16 lives and forcing the evacuation of more than 380,000 people.

On 19 August, some 60 per cent of the Metro Manila region was under water as the average monthly rainfall for August fell in just one day. The surrounding provinces of Rizal, Laguna, Bulacan, Zambales, Cavite, Bataan, Pampanga and Occidental Mindoro were badly affected. Sixteen people were killed and five remain missing.

Government offices, schools and businesses, including the stock market, were closed and even streets that were not flooded were eerily empty as people from the provinces could not travel into work in the city.

The monsoon rains were exacerbated by the arrival of Tropical Storm Trami, the thirteenth weather system to pass through Philippine territory this year. Trami came only a week after Typhoon Utor, known locally as Labuyo, made landfall across the northern part of Luzon, claiming eight lives.

Schools close

The province of Laguna, just south of Manila, was one of the areas worst affected by the flooding. Schools were closed and turned in to evacuation centres. De La Paz Elementary housed 328 families – about 1,640 people – some of whom reported fleeing chest-deep water in their homes.

“For the first time, classrooms were flooded and we have no electricity in the school now,” said Headmistress Czarina Rasco: We hope that people can return to their homes by the weekend so we can reopen as a school and resume classes next week.”

More than 20 families in Laguna had their homes completely destroyed and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are now looking for ways to support them over the coming months.

Preparedness born of familiarity

Thirty-one-year-old Cecilia Abad fled with her six children as waist-high water flooded her home. The family has spent the past four nights at an evacuation centre at the San Pedro Central School in Laguna.

“Last year I spent four months in an evacuation centre because my home was flooded,” Cecilia said. “I hope to be able to get back to my home so I can clean it and move back in over the weekend.”

The Government of the Philippines is well versed in responding to disasters like this week’s monsoon rains and last week’s Typhoon Utor. Each year between June and December, an average of 20 severe weather systems hit the Philippines.

No significant international assistance was requested after Utor hit, partly because people in the path of the typhoon knew what to expect, and because of the high level of preparedness work that had been carried out at community, local government, and national level.

Local authorities lead response

Barangay (village) captains and local government units were largely able to manage the response to the monsoon rains. However, authorities did make some targeted requests for assistance. The World Food Programme will provide 50 tons of high energy biscuits for 125,000 people affected by the floods, while the International Organization for Migration will support authorities to manage some evacuation centres and ensure that the return of evacuees is planned and implemented in an effective manner.

The World Health Organization raised concerns about the dangers of leptospirosis – a bacterial infection caused by contact with contaminated water.

“OCHA will continue to coordinate international support, and work with government agencies to ensure relief is delivered to the most affected,” said David Carden head of OCHA’s Philippines office. “We will also continue to encourage resilience building of communities who are repeatedly affected by these weather systems on an all too regular basis.”

Reporting by Orla Fagan, OCHA Philippines

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