MANILA, Philippines- Misery brought by heavy rains that flooded many parts of the eastern section of the country in the past two weeks has spread to Western Visayas.
At least seven more people drowned over the past four days as floodwaters engulfed the provinces of Samar and Negros Occidental, pushing the death toll to 40. Seven other people remain missing after being swept away by floods or buried by landslides.
President Benigno Aquino III has scheduled a whirlwind visit to provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that were hit hardest by heavy rains and floods over the Christmas holidays, Malacañang said Wednesday.
Within hours of each other on Friday, Mr. Aquino is expected to visit Legazpi City in Albay, St. Bernard town in Southern Leyte, and Butuan City in Agusan del Norte.
"He'd like to see the extent of devastation and just to check the progress of the concerned agencies on the ground, to see what else can be done to assist the victims," said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
The last time the President inspected disaster-stricken areas was after the onslaught of Typhoon "Juan" (international name: Megi) in northern Luzon and Cagayan Valley last year.
The heavy rains began shortly before New Year's Eve and have affected 1.29 million people across 144 towns, including 338,000 who fled their homes or are receiving food or other aid from the government, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in its latest bulletin.
More than 22,000 people remain in government-run temporary shelters while waiting for floodwaters to ebb, with nearly 1,300 houses damaged or destroyed, it added.
Soldiers and government personnel are evacuating more people in Samar and nearby Leyte island, the bulletin said.
An initial government estimate put the damage to roads and bridges, homes and farms at nearly P900 million.
The northeast monsoon and the tail end of the cold front, which have brought rains and caused flooding, will continue to affect Luzon and the Visayas, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
PAGASA warned of flash floods and landslides as it said that these weather systems would bring light rains to the eastern sections of northern and central Luzon, which could become widespread rains in Quezon, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, Albay, Sorsogon and the Samar and Leyte provinces.
PAGASA earlier said that La Niña, a weather phenomenon characterized by heavy rains, would peak in the first two months of the year in the country.
Provinces in the Visayas and Surigao City in Mindanao have also experienced a higher than normal amount of rainfall just a week into the month, the weather bureau reported earlier.
Fatalities in Negros
In Negros Occidental, the fatalities were identified as Amelyn Logronio, 9, of Purok Isla in Barangay Villamonte, Bacolod City, and Jose Anonas, 37, of Barangay San Jose in EB Magalona. The drowning victim in Tacloban City was identified as Edmar Quiza, a 14-year-old high school student.
Logronio's body was recovered on Tuesday afternoon at the Eroreco Bridge area in Bacolod City by Amity volunteers and was claimed by her father Ramil at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, according to Joemarie Vargas, City Disaster Coordinating Council action officer.
Anonas drowned when floods hit Barangay San Jose and his body was found by his son on Tuesday evening.
The Negros Occidental Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office reported that 6,082 families were evacuated from Victorias City (3,287), Talisay City (1,139), EB Magalona (1,138), Silay City (488) and Bacolod (20).
Initial reports showed that nine houses were destroyed and five were damaged in Silay.
State of calamity
Silay Mayor Jose Montelibano said he would place the city in a state of calamity.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon said the provincial government would buy a dredger to dredge the rivers in the province Negros Occidental to lessen flooding.
In Tacloban City, Quiza, a first-year high school student, and three companions were swimming in Bito River in Barangay Palanog on Tuesday afternoon when a heavy downpour caused the river to overflow, according to Quiza's father Pedro.
Quiza's companions managed to swim back to safety but he was swept away due to the strong river current, Pedro said.
He said the body of his son, who was first reported missing at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, was recovered at 6 a.m. on Wednesday around 100 meters from where Quiza was last seen.
PAGASA advised residents in low-lying areas to take appropriate actions against possible flash floods and landslides.
Warning to fishermen
The weather bureau warned fishermen from Luzon, the Visayas and northeastern Mindanao against going out to sea because the strong northeasterly winds were expected to generate big waves.
No tropical cyclone is in the Philippine area of responsibility at this time, according to the weather bureau.