By TERESA CEROJANO, Associated Press Writer Teresa Cerojano, Associated Press Writer – Tue Sep 29, 4:27 pm ET
MANILA, Philippines – Flood victims trudged through ankle-deep sludge to crowded relief centers in the Philippines on Tuesday, as the death toll rose to 246 from water that inundated the homes of nearly 2 million people.
Tropical Storm Ketsana brought the worst flooding to the Southeast Asian country in four decades, chasing some victims to their rooftops to escape the rising water and sweeping others down raging rivers.
The storm struck Saturday in Manila, one of the world's largest cities with about 12 million people, and dumped more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours. Flooding was worst around the Pasig River that cuts through the capital, including wealthy suburbs and shanty towns.
The presidential palace was opened as a relief center, and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's executive chef cooked gourmet food for victims at another shelter.
Ketsana strengthened and crashed into central Vietnam on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people who drowned, were caught in mudslides or hit by falling trees, officials said. Some 170,000 people were evacuated.
"The rivers are rising, and many homes are flooded, and several mountainous districts have been isolated by mudslides," said Nguyen Minh Tuan, a provincial disaster official in Vietnam.
The storm weakened as it moved inland and approached Laos, but rivers were still rising and more rain was forecast for the region Wednesday.
In the Philippines, where at least 38 people remained missing and more rain was forecast, some of the displaced families recalled their ordeal from a covered court in the town center where they sought shelter.
"What happened was the water suddenly rose. We did not know that the water would reach the second floor, so we went up to the roof but the roof gave in, so we just floated in the water holding on to a trunk of a banana tree," said Herminio Abahat, whose wife is still missing.
Abahat said he and his wife were swept to a river and eventually separated by the raging currents.
Thick, gooey mud lay in the streets in some places, while others were still under a foot or two of water. But the main downtown business and tourist district was largely unscathed.
In Marikina, a suburban district of the capital, police used forklifts to remove mud-caked cars stalled along the road. Elsewhere, people used shovels and brooms to muck brown mud from their homes and businesses, some of which were inundated up to the second floor.
Victims clutching bags of belongings lined up for hours at relief centers for bottled water, boiled eggs and packets of instant noodles.
Gingery Comprendio, a mother of five, described how she left her children on the roof of their house to alert authorities about a live electric line. When she returned, her family was gone.
"I did not know what transpired. We were on top of a roof but we got separated," Comprendio said. "The next day when I came back to our house I saw my eldest already dead and my aunt saw my other child buried in the mud." Her husband also remains missing.
In the Bagong Silangan area of the capital, about 150 people sheltered on a covered basketball court that had been turned into a makeshift evacuation center for storm victims. People lay on pieces of cardboard amid piles of garbage and swarming flies, their belongings crammed into bags nearby.
Seventeen white wooden coffins, some of them child-sized, lined one part of the court. A woman wept quietly beside one coffin.
Sensitive to criticism that her administration was unprepared to respond to the disaster, Arroyo launched a public relations offensive to show her administration was doing all it could to help — even while conceding the country needed international aid.
She opened part of the presidential palace as a relief center, and hundreds of people received food and made free phone calls to friends and relatives.
Presidential aide Hermogenes Esperon said up to 500 victims would be given blankets and other supplies and allowed to stay in the palace grounds, after they had undergone security checks, starting with about 50 people on Tuesday night.
"We're responding to the extent we can to this once-in-a-lifetime typhoon emergency," Arroyo said in a statement.
Nearly 380,000 people have sought shelter in relief centers. The government has declared a "state of calamity" in Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces and estimated the damage at $97 million.
Another storm, meanwhile, was headed toward the Philippines. Tropical Storm Parma was about 800 miles (1,280 kilometers) southeast of the Philippines late Tuesday, bringing the threat of more heavy rain, Nilo Frisco of the government weather agency said.
"There is sense of extreme urgency that we prepare," National Disaster Coordinating Council chairman Gilberto Teodoro told reporters.
Washington had pledged $100,000 for the relief efforts and U.S. Navy personnel were helping with search and rescue, the Foreign Affairs Department said Tuesday. China, Japan, Singapore and Australia have also pledged extra aid, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a message that help would come from the world body, too.
Earlier, Arroyo said more police should be deployed to respond to reports of looting. In Marikina, district police Chief Supt. Benhur de Manteli said there was no evidence of widespread looting, despite rumors.
Some victims said what food and other aid was being handed out came largely from private donations, and complained they had seen no government aid or officials in their districts since Saturday's storm.
Pat Uy, a 38-year-old store owner, said she huddled with her family for almost a day in her third-floor apartment in Marikina as the waters rose, and received no help despite repeated calls. Now, the only government aid available was more a walk of more than a mile to a nearby district.
"The government should not expect us to go to Katipunan to get the relief supplies," said Uy, whose gift store was flooded, destroying her stock. "They should bring them here."
A view of a basketball court that is used both as a shelter for evacuees in one section and a vigil area for the dead in another for flood victims brought on by Typhoon Ketsana, locally known as Ondoy, at an evacuation centre in Bagong Silangan, Quezon City Metro Manila September 30, 2009. The death toll in the Philippines from Typhoon Ketsana rose to 246 while the economic cost was nearly $100 million, officials said.
REUTERS/John Javellana (PHILIPPINES ENVIRONMENT DISASTER)
An aerial view of a flooded area caused by Typhoon Ketsana is seen from an airplane in Vietnam's central city of Danang September 30, 2009. The biggest floods in decades threatened Vietnam's central provinces on Wednesday following a powerful typhoon that swept into the country after wreaking havoc in the Philippines.
REUTERS/Kham (VIETNAM ANNIVERSARY DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) ENVIRONMENT)
Residents wade through floodwaters with their belongings as they make their way to evacuation centers Wednesday Sept. 30, 2009, in San Pedro township, in Laguna province 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Manila, Philippines. One of the most destructive storms in years extended its deadly path across Southeast Asia, blowing down wooden villages in Cambodia and crushing Vietnamese houses under mudslides after submerging much of the Philippine capital.
(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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