MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of Filipinos shoveled muck and debris from flood-ravaged homes, shops and roads under a shining sun Thursday after nearly two weeks of nonstop rain shut down the capital and forced hundreds of thousands to flee from the deluge.
At least 23 people died and nearly 2 million people were affected by Manila's worst flooding since 2009. More than half of the sprawling metropolis of 12 million was submerged at the peak, and schools and offices have been closed for days.
Under a hot sun Thursday as the rain finally stopped, residents began to fix disheveled homes and stores in flood-hit communities that resembled a wasteland littered with mud-caked garbage. Some of the displaced in still-crowded evacuation centers have begun to trickle back to neighborhoods, where floodwaters have subsided, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said, but more than 314,000 people remained in hundreds of evacuation centers in Manila and outlying provinces.
"We were totally washed out," said Rudy Aquino, a flower shop owner along Araneta Avenue, where more than three meters (10 feet) of rampaging floodwaters swamped everything and carried all sorts of trash and even a wayward cargo truck.
Aquino, whose shop also was hit by the more massive flashflood in 2009, was moving to a safer location when the deluge engulfed his business on Tuesday and again late Wednesday when floodwaters rose again. As he tried to rise from the latest onslaught, a fresh supply of red orchids arrived at his shop Thursday as he and staff were cleaning up.
Even though the weather has cleared, the government was busy with rescue and relief work in the worst-hit areas, especially along swollen rivers and coastal communities. In hard-hit Marikina city in the capital, rescuers on rubber boats floated down still-flooded streets to reach thousands of residents marooned in submerged houses along the Marikina River.
After the rains stopped, thousands of shoppers descended on grocery stores to stack up on food and other supplies.
The flooding has rattled the nerves of tens of thousands of people who had to be evacuated for the second time in as many days after returning home during a brief respite of dry weather early 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 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.
The 23 deaths reported since Sunday include nine people killed in a landslide in Quezon City and several 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.
Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski, Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.