Rescue teams evacuated thousands of people from the worst flooding in the central Luzon region of the Philippines since the 1970s, as the death toll climbed to 29 and 6,000 remain homeless and seeking refuge at government-run evacuation centers.
Civil defense officials said 1.12 million people out of the national population of 84 million received relief assistance worth 7.96 million pesos ($142 thousand USD), as more than 100 towns and cities of the main island of Luzon went underwater or were isolated by landslides following last week's heavy southwest monsoon rains induced by Typhoon Aere.
Portions of the main north-south Luzon highway were cut off after the Pampanga and Tarlac rivers burst dikes, while landslides blocked key arteries in the upland Cordillera region of northern Luzon.
Heavy rain caused flooding in some areas and forced the closure of government offices and schools on Wednesday and Thursday. Churches, however, still met to give service despite the floods, as congregants worshipped in water-filled chapels.
Sources say floodwaters in Pangasinan, Tarlac and Pampanga provinces, north of Manila, had started to recede late last week. However, water levels in Bulacan started to rise on Sunday night, worsened by high tides in nearby Manila Bay.
Although the heavy rains have stopped and floods are receding, Red Cross spokeswoman Tess Usapdin said the affected population would need a week more of food and medical support before things could return to normal.
"Rescue efforts are still going on in several low-lying areas in Bulacan province," Neri Amparo of the National Disaster Coordinating Council told Reuters. "We started moving them out last night for their own safety."
She said the flooding on the vast plains of rice fields and fishponds, once the rice bowl of the Philippines, were the worst in more than 30 years. Damage to agriculture and infrastructure was estimated at $8 million.
The disaster agency is waiting for updates from many areas that remained inaccessible, Amparo said.
The last large-scale flood on the main island of Luzon was in 1972 when the entire plain was under more than 2 meters (yards) of water for several days.