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Over sixty people die and schools shut as floods strike the capital of the Philippines

Torrential rain has brought severe flooding to Luzon island in the Philippines, leading to the death of over 60 people in the past week and causing the closure of roads, offices and schools.

Typhoon Saola hit northern areas in late July and in the southwest of Luzon island, the rain has been constant for over 10 days. Officials estimate that around 60% of Manila is now flooded, with the waters in some suburbs up to two metres deep. Over 240,000 residents of the capital and its provinces have been forced to take shelter in evacuation centres, while an estimated 600,000 have gone to stay with relatives or friends.

Evacuation centres have been set up in schools, gyms and churches, and the Philippines government has organised emergency supplies of food, water and clothes for nearly 850,000 people in Manila and nearby provinces. Since the floodwaters have affected the supply of electricity in many places, people are relying on candles when it gets dark. Some evacuation centres are rapidly becoming overcrowded, as officials find it hard to control the flow of people seeking safety.

Members of the military and police, as well as civic employees, have been tasked with delivering aid. But with many roads impassable and strong currents operating in the deepest waters, aid operations by boat are proving difficult. Rescuers also report that some residents are loath to leave their flooded homes, fearing their belongings will be looted. The head of the national disaster agency told Reuters “if there is a need for us to force [people] to leave their homes, we will do that for their own safety”.

The Philippines is hit by regular typhoons, but the current situation is the worst since 2009, when flash floods brought devastation to the capital and claimed the lives of hundreds. Already concerned about further bad weather, the interior secretary has said the government is making plans to relocate people who live along riverbanks and low lying coastal areas for the duration of the typhoon and monsoon season.

Along coastal areas, aerial photos show the extent of the flood waters, where in some places it’s hard to distinguish the sea from the flooding. Four provinces near to the capital have declared a state of calamity, including Bataan and Pampanga, which are rice-growing regions. So far, damage to rice crops has already been estimated at 3.6 million dollars. And with further heavy rains expected, it looks as if there could be more misery for farmers and residents of Manila and its surrounding areas in the days and weeks to come.

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