Thousands to help clean up Manila flood debris

Officials said Saturday they will mobilize thousands to clean up the Philippine capital in the wake of torrential monsoon rains and flooding as evacuees return to clear mud and debris that swamped their homes.

Civil defense chief Benito Ramos said that police, soldiers, coast guard personnel and military reservists will be used to help Manila recover from its worst flooding since 2009. Hundreds of volunteers who helped in rescue and relief work in the early days of the floods will also help in the cleanup.

The Office of Civil Defense said Saturday the floods left at least 66 people dead and affected up to 2.68 million people in Manila and nearby provinces, with more than 440,000 fleeing to evacuation centers.

"The mounds of garbage and muck are terrible," Ramos said. "This is embarrassing to foreigners."

Corazon Jimenez, general manager of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, which is in charge of traffic management and garbage disposal for the sprawling capital of 12 million, said part of the cleanup will involve collecting the garbage that has washed from creeks and rivers into Manila Bay.

"I can't describe this anymore. These are mountains of garbage," she said.

Incessant rains from Sunday through Wednesday swelled rivers and creeks and overwhelmed drainage canals already clogged with garbage, raising flood waters that at the peak submerged more than half of metropolitan Manila.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said authorities have already closed about 100 of 351 government-run shelters in the metropolis as evacuees trickled home.

She said the government planned to relocate about half a million urban poor families in the capital, most of them living in "danger zones" such as by river banks and under bridges.

"It can be done, but that would need a lot of help and a lot of political will from people involved," Soliman said.

She didn't say how much the relocation would cost, but said funding wasn't a problem because of prudent spending by the government and anti-corruption measures.