MANILA — The Philippines' capital region and surrounding provinces saw catastrophic floods Thursday as Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco) brought heavy rains and lashing winds overnight, leaving millions without power, houses flooded, and sleepless residents seeking air rescue on rooftops.
In scenes reminiscent of unprecedented flooding brought by Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) over a decade ago, villages in eastern Metro Manila and neighboring Rizal experienced severe inundation, with the Marikina River reaching water levels worse than its peak at the height of the 2009 storm.
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Batasan-San Mateo Bridge as of 7:30 a.m., Nov. 12, 2020. Larry Piojo, ABS-CBN News
PAGASA has yet to release exact calculations on Ulysses' rainfall, but weather forecaster Benison Estareja estimated it had dumped more rains than Ondoy.
"In terms of pag-ulan natin, ina-assess pa rin natin pero comparable po... Masasabi nating mas maraming pag-ulan na naranasan dito sa bagyong Ulysses compared kay Ondoy dahil malawak ang bagyo," Estareja told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
(In terms of rains, we are still assessing but this is comparable... We can say we experienced more rains under Typhoon Ulysses compared to Ondoy because [Ulysses] is expansive.]
Typhoon Ulysses, which peaked at speeds of 155 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph, brought prolonged heavy to torrential rains starting Wednesday night across the country's main Luzon island, an area already sodden by five successive storms in less than three weeks.
It was weaker than Super Typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni), which struck Nov. 1, but more regions reported widespread flooding, as Ulysses dumped more rainfall on rivers and dams still swollen by earlier storms.
As of Thursday morning, two Luzon dams- Angat in Bulacan and the La Mesa in Quezon City- had exceeded capacity, prompting the first to open its gates and the other to spill. The Caliraya dam in Laguna was, meanwhile, close to spilling level.
Several rivers were under watch, with PAGASA issuing flood warnings earlier Wednesday for the possible rise in water levels at the Pasig, Marikina and Tullahan Rivers.
Four other major river basins- those in Pampanga, Agno, Bicol and Cagayan- were under flood watch, according to a PAGASA report.
On Thursday morning, Marikina's raging river sent a steel bridge crashing onto a concrete bridge, with force so strong the metal structure looked like frail tin.
In Pasay City, storm-stirred waters of the Manila Bay swept a cargo vessel onto a mall esplanade.
Several trees and lamp posts in the capital region were toppled.
High levels of flooding were reported across Luzon, from avenues in business capital Makati to neighborhoods in Bulacan and Rizal, with residents posting online images of heavily flooded streets and submerged vehicles.
A tunnel on major thoroughfare EDSA and several road sections of the North Luzon Expressway were impassable due to flooding as of Thursday morning.
Even the Philippine Senate had to cancel a crucial budget hearing on Thursday as its building in Pasay City lost power when the storm's heavy rains and whipping winds caused its power transformer to trip.
In towns in Rizal and a neighborhood bordering the towns of Baliuag and Bustos in Bulacan, the flooding left only rooftops of homes visible.
Boat rescues went underway early Thursday, just as Ulysses moved across the Luzon landmass en route out of the Philippine area of responsibility.
Ondoy's maximum center winds was 105 kph and its gusts was up to 135 kph. It made landfall on Sept. 26, 2009 near the boundary of Aurora and Quezon provinces.
A total of 1,785 barangays from 154 municipalities and 30 cities across 12 affected regions in the country were flooded. It included 239 barangays in Metro Manila.
Ondoy affected over 4.9 million people, with over 70,000 brought to evacuation centers.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the storm left 464 people dead, 529 injured and 37 missing, while estimated cost of damage to infrastructure and agriculture amounted to P11 billion.