MANILA, Philippines?As many areas of Metro Manila remained without power Sunday, rescuers plucked bodies from muddy floodwaters and scrambled to save drenched survivors on rooftops after Storm ?Ondoy? left 73 people dead in a strike across the region.
Nearly 300,000 people were affected by the storm, including some 47,000 who were brought to schools, churches and other evacuation shelters, officials said.
Education officials suspended classes at all levels on Monday and Tuesday in Metro Manila and Rizal province.
Manila Electric Co. said that as of noon, about one million Meralco customers?or about one-fifth of its total number of customers?were still without electricity.
Damage to agriculture as of Sunday was estimated at P510 million in regions Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Calabarzon, with damage to rice crops initially placed at P490 million.
In a statement, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said: ?Ondoy was a once in a lifetime typhoon, an extreme event whose record rainfall strained our response capabilities to the limit but ultimately did not break us.?
Ms Arroyo pledged to help people rebuild their homes and directed the trade department ?to ensure a steady supply of foodstuffs and other essentials at reasonable prices to consumers.?
She ordered the Department of Energy to ?secure the availability of gasoline, LPG, and similar products under normal terms.?
Army troops, police and civilian volunteers have rescued more than 5,100 people.
Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) roared across Luzon on Saturday, dumping more than a month?s worth of rain in just 12 hours.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado, accompanied by journalists, flew over several towns onboard Air Force helicopters to witness the harrowing sight of drenched survivors still marooned on top of half-submerged buses and rooftops.
Some dangerously clung on high-voltage power lines, while others plodded through waist-high flood waters, TV footage showed.
Children not spared
In Marikina City, a rescuer gingerly lifted the mud-covered body of a child from a boat and carried away two other bodies found in a search of a flooded neighborhood.
Many residents lost all their belongings in the storm, but were thankful they were alive.
?We?re back to zero,? said resident Ronald Manlangit.
Mud covered everything?cars, the road and vegetables?in a public market near Manlangit?s house.
Bulacan Gov. Joselito Mendoza said it was tragic that ?people drowned in their own houses? as the storm raged.
The sun shone briefly in Manila on Sunday, revealing the extent of devastation in many neighborhoods?destroyed houses, overturned vans and cars, and streets and highways covered in debris and mud.
Ondoy, which packed winds of 85 kilometers per hour with gusts of up to 100 kph, hit land early Saturday then roared across the main Luzon island toward the South China Sea.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) defended the government?s response to the floods, saying it was ?quick? compared to how American and Taiwan authorities responded to equally disastrous typhoons that hit their countries in recent years.
Dumping 455 millimeters of rain in 24 hours, Ondoy surpassed the amount of rain (200-250 mm) unleashed by the catastrophic Hurricane ?Katrina? in the southern parts of the United States on Aug. 29-31, 2005.
In August, Taiwan experienced its worst floods in 50 years after Typhoon ?Morakot? struck the area. As much as two meters (2,000 mm) of rainfall from Morakot was reported in Taiwan on Aug. 7-8.
Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said that ?even though we were quicker to respond, a lot still has to be done.?
?We have to work together to develop our systems,? Teodoro said.
After presiding over an NDCC meeting, Ms Arroyo, wearing a shiny trench coat and pink knee-high boots, proceeded to badly hit Cainta, Rizal to inspect the situation.
In the aftermath of Ondoy, 73 people were reported dead, 23 missing, four injured, and 47,261 displaced, according to the NDCC.
The fatalities included two soldiers and four militiamen who were swept away by a strong current while rescuing residents in Fami and Mabitac towns in Laguna province.
The NDCC breakdown of the death toll was: three in Muntinlupa; two in Quezon City; one each in Marikina, San Juan City, and Cabugao town in Apayao; 21 in Central Luzon (nine in Bulacan; 12 in Arayat, Pampanga); one in Calaca, Batangas; one in Calauag, Quezon; 23 in Tanay, 10 in Angono, five in Baras, three in Rodriguez and one in Teresa, all in Rizal.
The nine-hour deluge submerged houses, washed away shanties and turned roads into raging rivers, forcing terrified residents to seek refuge on top of homes or cars where they waited for more than 24 hours.
The US military contributed a helicopter and six boats to the relief operations.
The downpour left some areas of the metropolis under up to 20 feet of water, shocking a country that is already used to being battered by typhoons with its ferocity.
Adding to the chaos, telephone and power services were cut off in the worst-hit areas and patchy for other parts of Manila.
?All classes at all levels in the National Capital Region and Rizal are suspended (today and tomorrow),? Lapus said. ?Homes and access roads are still flooded. Some schools which are not flooded or damaged are being used as evacuation centers.?
He said that, in other municipalities or areas, local government and school authorities may exercise judgment on suspending classes depending on their respective local conditions.
Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Emmanuel Angeles said the heads of colleges and universities in the provinces could suspend classes in their own schools if necessary.
Back to normal
At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, at least eight international flights going to or coming from Narita, Japan; Hong Kong; Xiamen, China; Doha, Qatar; and Sydney, Australia, were canceled on Saturday night.
Four domestic flights were canceled.
?We did it for the good of everyone, mindful that our air travellers? safety is always our priority. We were back to normal operations by 3 a.m. [Sunday],? said Tirso Serrano, assistant general manager for corporate affairs and airport development of the Manila International Airport Authority.
?Damage this storm has caused is heartbreaking,? US Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson said in a statement. She said Ambassador Kristie Kenney had offered $50,000 in immediate disaster relief assistance.
The Meralco substations still without power as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday due to the floods were in Taguig, Cainta, Palomar and Bocaue.
?Ensuring the safety of the public was the primary reason for cutting off power in the said circuits,? said Meralco external communications manager Joe Zaldarriaga.
?Unfortunately, the floods have been slow in subsiding and this impedes the progress of our restoration work in a number of our substations,? he said.
He said that should customers have any difficulty getting through the Meralco hotline 16211, they could also text 09175592824 and 0920-9292824.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) suspended the number-coding system for vehicles starting to Monday until Friday.
MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando said the one-week suspension should enable the national and local government to rescue and provide relief to affected areas.
The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) dispatched several rescue teams to hard-hit Marikina City, including Provident Village where residents were forced by floodwaters to climb to their roofs.
The community of both middle and rich classes was among those hit hardest by Ondoy. Rescue teams brought eight rubber rafts and an aluminum boat to the area to save residents trapped on the second floor of their homes or on their roofs.
Bulacan hard hit
At least 38 people were killed by flooding in Bulacan and a landslide in Pampanga.
Reports from the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) said at least 26 people died from drowning or electrocution in the towns of Bocaue, Guiguinto, Bustos, Marilao and Norzagaray, and Meycauayan City.
Water releases from the Angat and Ipo dams in Norzagaray town were stopped at 12 a.m. Sunday, reports from the PDCC and dam officials said. The dams breached their critical levels on Saturday.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urged the prosecution of those responsible for opening the dams.
?Whoever opened the dams that flooded Metro Manila without warning should be prosecuted for the loss of lives and property,? Pimentel said in a text message.
Bulacan officials said excess water released by the dams should not be blamed for the massive flooding that hit Metro Manila and parts of Central Luzon.
Pearly Mendoza, provincial administrator, said many areas outside Bulacan, which are not along the path of waterways where the excess water from Angat and Ipo would pass through, also experienced heavy flooding.
Rodolfo German, general manager of the Angat hydroelectric power plant, said that while the water released from Angat could have contributed to the flooding, this could not be the sole culprit.
German said the dam?s rate of water release on Saturday was an average of 500 cubic meters per second (cms), which he described as ?within the tolerable limit.? Reports from Nikko Dizon, Christian V. Esguerra, Amy R. Remo, Riza T. Olchondra Jerome Aning, Allison W. Lopez; Carmela Reyes, Charlene Cayabyab, Robert Gonzaga, Tonette Orejas, Anselmo Roque and Greg Refraccion, Inquirer Central Luzon; Vincent Cabreza, Villamor Visaya Jr., Gabriel Cardinoza and Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Maricar Cinco and Marrah Erika Lesaba, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Inquirer Research; and Associated Press, Agence France-Presse