MANILA: At least 11 people have died in storms across the Philippines in the past week, with more heavy rain expected in already sodden regions of the disaster-prone country, authorities said Tuesday. Bad weather has plagued the country's southern and central islands since the Christmas weekend when downpours triggered flooding and landslides that left 52 people dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
Since January 3, back-to-back storms have killed 11 people as floodwaters swept through houses, cut roads and swamped crops, the civil defence office said. The state weather forecaster warned Tuesday of "serious flooding" in low-lying areas and landslides in the mountains of the central island of Samar.
Heavy rain has already inundated villages, with water levels reaching three metres (10 feet) in some places. So far, one person was missing and more than 2,200 people had been evacuated from their homes, said Josh Echano, Northern Samar provincial disaster officer.
The number of evacuees was expected to rise. "The flood is progressing since yesterday, it's not subsiding," Echano said. "This could be fatal. This could be one of the worst (floods)." The Philippines is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, and scientists have warned that storms are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer.
Meanwhile, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit deep under the ocean off Indonesia and East Timor early Tuesday, injuring at least one person after rattling nearby islands, damaging homes and forcing residents to flee in panic.
The epicentre of the quake was 427 kilometres (265 miles) south of the Indonesian island of Ambon at a depth of 95 kilometres, the US Geological Survey reported. Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the tremor was felt on the eastern islands of Timor, the Maluku archipelago and Papua. It reported some aftershocks at a magnitude of 5.5.
"I was in bed, then I felt a little shake. I woke up and found out that many of my friends felt it too," Hamdi, an Indonesian in Ambon, told AFP. The country's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said at least 15 homes and two schools had been damaged in the Tanimbar Islands.
The strongest jolt was felt in Saumlaki, the archipelago's biggest town with a population of 8,000 people, it said. "For casualties, the local disaster agency reported one person was injured. The jolt was felt strongly (in Tanimbar) between three to five seconds," BNPB spokesperson Abdul Muhari said in a statement Tuesday.
"People were panicking and fled their homes." Pictures shared by the agency showed damage to homes in several villages in Southwest Maluku Regency. In one village, the roofs and walls of several damaged houses had collapsed. Debris and household items were scattered on the ground.
The quake caused light poles to sway and sent residents running out of buildings and onto streets in Tual, a port in the Maluku archipelago, videos posted by users on Twitter showed. The Indonesian geophysics agency warned about a potential tsunami initially, and then lifted the warning.
The quake was felt as far as Darwin, capital of Australia's Northern Territory, where at least 1,000 people reported it to the Australian Geoscience agency. "Sustained vigorous shaking here in #Darwin just now from what looks to be a pretty serious #earthquake to our north," user @OreboundImages tweeted.
"Could hear the earth rumbling," another Darwin resident posted on the EMSC website. "Was huge! Went on for ages, whole house was really shaking," still another Darwin resident noted. Video posted by Twitter users in Darwin showed water in glasses and pitchers sloshing from side to side.
Indonesia experiences frequent seismic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide. On November 21, a 5.6-magnitude quake hit the populous West Java province on the main island of Java, killing 602 people.
A major earthquake off Sumatra on December 26, 2004, set off an Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people as far away as Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. That powerful 9.1-magnitude quake triggered 100-foot waves that hit the shore of Banda Aceh on Sumatra. -AFP