MANILA, Philippines – A fresh deluge forced more evacuations along fast-rising rivers in the Philippine capital Thursday, as the city and surrounding areas struggled to deal with widespread flooding triggered by nearly two weeks of relentless rains.
Even though the weather was gradually improving Thursday morning, the number of displaced was still rising, to nearly 300,000 in some 500 evacuation centers. Rescuers on rubber boats floated down flooded streets to reach thousands of residents marooned in submerged houses along the hardest-hit Marikina River.
A fresh downpour pounded Manila on Wednesday night, feeding the already-saturated watersheds that flow into the network of rivers crisscrossing the coastal city of 12 million people.
The flooding, the worst since 2009, has rattled the nerves of thousands of people who had to be evacuated for the second time in as many days after returning home following a brief respite from rains Wednesday.
"They are hard-headed. Now that the waters are high again, they got scared and they are calling us to be rescued," said police Senior Inspector Abner Perdosa, who led a team of rescuers in bright orange shirts helping residents across waist-deep muddy waters into government-run shelters.
Minerva Mercader, a beauty parlor worker, said she and her children had returned to their house near a river in suburban Quezon City when the weather cleared Wednesday, only to rush back to a Roman Catholic church when the waters rose again.
"I got scared because the sky was so dark and there was this downpour," said Mercader, who was dripping wet from the rain as she stepped into Santo Domingo Church with her three children. "We have no food and I don't know what to do."
Government forecasters said the weather would continue to improve throughout the day Thursday.
At least 23 people have died since Sunday, including nine in a landslide in a hillside slum in Quezon City and several others who drowned in outlying provinces. Classes were suspended this week as cities declared a state of calamity, and government offices were slowly reopening. The U.S. Embassy remained closed Thursday.
The national disaster-response agency said nearly 2 million people were affected by the floods, which submerged half of Manila at one point.
Manila was drenched with more than half of a month's worth of rain in just 24 hours starting Monday. A typhoon that was near China and helped intensify the Philippine rains blew into the Chinese mainland Wednesday, leading to the drier forecasts for the rest of the week.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano and Oliver Teves contributed to this report.