Death toll rises to 45 in storm-hit Philippines

A boy looks at a swollen creek under a flyover in Manila, after heavy rains hit the Philippines, on Dec 19, 2015.
A boy looks at a swollen creek under a flyover in Manila, after heavy rains hit the Philippines, on Dec 19, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

CALUMPUT, Philippines (AFP) - The death toll from two storms which battered the Philippines rose to 45 on Sunday (Dec 20) as several towns remained under water and rain kept falling in northern regions, disaster monitoring officials said.

The rain was caused by a cold front, dragged into the country by Typhoon Melor and Tropical Depression Onyok which hit the Philippines in succession last week.

Floods almost 3m deep covered some riverside areas north of the capital Manila as heavy rain kept falling, civil defence offices said.

"Our home has been flooded up to the waist. It has been flooded for over two days," said Mary Jane Bautista, 35, in the industrial town of Calumpit 50km north of the capital.

Her family and several others were forced to take refuge on nearby high ground - in front of a church where their only shelter is the awning over the entrance.

"My husband has to wade through the waters to go home to get supplies. If we need water, he has to go to the faucet in our kitchen," she told AFP, expressing fears the current could wash him away.

"We had some food but it just ran out," she said, complaining that government relief goods had not yet reached her.

Around her the streets had turned into fast-moving rivers, passable only by rowboats and people using inner tubes.

Many low-lying areas north of Manila act as a catchment area for rain in other parts of the main island of Luzon.

"It (the flood) really takes a long time to recede because this is the lowest area," said Glenn Diwa, an officer with the regional disaster council.

Over 54,000 people in the region were huddling in government evacuation centres, she said, adding there was no guarantee they would be home by Christmas, one of the biggest holidays in the largely Catholic nation.

Melor hit the south-east of Luzon on Dec 14 and moved west across the archipelago.

Even as it departed to the South China Sea, another storm named locally as Onyok hit the southern island of Mindanao and brought more heavy rain.

Almost a week after Melor struck, the death toll was still rising, with the bodies of four dead fishermen washed up in the eastern region of Bicol.

"They left during clear weather. But they were caught by the typhoon on the way home," said Cedric Daep, the region's civil defence chief.

The unregistered vessel did not have a radio or even life vests, he told AFP.

The government weather station said Onyok had dissipated and the weather would improve nationwide by Monday.

The nation of 100 million people is battered by an average of 20 typhoons annually, many of them deadly. In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped out entire fishing communities in the central islands, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.