Manila residents waded through waist-deep floodwaters, dodging branches and flying debris Tuesday as a powerful typhoon sent surging waves as tall as palm trees crashing over seawalls and submerging entire neighborhoods.
At least seven people were killed, most of them in metropolitan Manila, which already was soaked by heavy monsoon rains ahead of Typhoon Nesat’s arrival and where the old town areas by the bay suffered their worst flooding in decades.
Pounding rains obscured the view of anyone on the streets as soldiers and police scrambled to safely evacuate thousands of people in low lying areas, where rivers and the sea spilled into shanties, hospitals, swanky hotels and even the seaside U.S. Embassy compound, which was closed Tuesday.
“It’s flooded everywhere. We don’t have a place to go for shelter. Even my motorcycle got filled with water,” said motorist Ray Gonzales, one of thousands stranded by fast-rising floodwaters.
The massive flooding came exactly a day after this sprawling, coastal city of 12 million held commemorations for the nearly 500 people killed during a 2009 cyclone, which dumped a month’s rainfall in just 12 hours.
Typhoon Nesat hit ashore before dawn Tuesday in eastern provinces and headed inland just north of Manila with up to an inch of rain per hour, half that of the storm two years ago, said government forecaster Samuel Duran.
The geography of the archipelago makes it a welcome mat for about 20 storms and typhoons forming in the Pacific each year but the latest onslaught still caught many by surprise.
In all, authorities ordered more than 100,000 people across the country to shelter from Typhoon Nesat’s rains, winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and gusts of up to 93 mph (150 kph) – enough to bend street signs.
Along downtown Manila’s historic bay walk, cars and buses were stuck and residents struggled through floodwaters as waves washed over the seawall, turning a six-lane highway into a huge brown river. Sidewalks and entrances to buildings were swamped and vehicles stranded along narrow streets.
Manila Hospital moved patients from its ground floor, where waters were neck-deep, spokeswoman Evangeline Morales said. Hospital generators were flooded and the building had no power since early Tuesday. Emergency workers evacuated river areas in the city that are notorious for flooding.
An Associated Press photographer said soldiers and police in trucks moved thousands of residents, mostly women and children, from the Baseco shanty facing Manila port after many houses were washed away. Male family members were reluctant to leave saying they wanted to guard their property.
The Philippine Stock Exchange and U.S. Embassy were also closed Tuesday. Waters at the gates of the embassy compound, which is located along Manila Bay, reached chest-deep.
“There was some flooding in the embassy, I don’t know the extent. I’m not there right now,” said embassy spokeswoman Tina Malone. She said employees on their way Tuesday turned around when told of a decision to close the embassy.
Residents in one neighborhood of Quezon City, a Manila suburb, fled their homes due to rising water from the nearby San Mateo River, and evacuations were under way along the Marikina River.
Toby Tiangco, the mayor of flood-prone Navotas, part of the greater Manila area, said it was the first time that water overcame the dike protecting the town.
In the financial district of Makati, a billboard fell on two cars and a bus, causing injuries.
Seasonal monsoon rains have been accumulating and “typhoon winds, strong waves could have pushed water inland,” Duran, the forecaster, told AP. “Land is saturated with rain so the next rain became run-off and was already floodwater,” he said.
Francis Tolentino, chairman of Metro Manila Development Authority, which encompasses the capital’s 17 cities, blamed the storm surge for the Manila Bay flooding.
“The wind was so strong so the seawater overflowed and flowed past the embankment and couldn’t flow back to the bay because of the embankment,” he said, adding that a high tide developing later Tuesday also played a role.
President Benigno Aquino III, on a state visit to Japan, issued a statement saying he had instructed authorities to compile all information about the flooding.
He said the government had carried out preventive evacuations in the central Philippines. Nearly half of the Luzon areas served by the main power distributor were without electricity due to tripping caused by high winds, he said.
“I’m in constant touch with these members of my Cabinet and the executive secretary has been instructed to keep me and the public informed of conditions pertaining as well as mitigation efforts,” Aquino said.
The first reported death was a 1-year-old who drowned in the central island province of Cataduanes after falling into a river, the government disaster agency reported. As the typhoon moved into Manila, a mother and child were killed when their house was hit by a falling tree in the suburb of Caloocan, and four were reported killed by a collapsing wall in the suburb of Valenzuela.
Four fishermen were missing while more than 50 others were rescued along eastern shores after their boats overturned in choppy seas.
Forecasters warned of 12-foot-high (4-meter-high) waves.
A tornado in Isabela’s Maconancon town ripped off the roofs of at least five houses, injuring two people, police said.
With its immense 400-mile (650-kilometer) cloud band, the typhoon threatened to foul weather across the entire main island of Luzon as it moves across the Philippines toward the South China Sea late Wednesday or early Thursday toward southern China.
Associated Press writer Oliver Teves, photographer Bullit Marquez and videographer Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.
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