by Xinhua Writer Xu Lingui
MANILA, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Two weeks have passed since the tropical storm Kestana whipped the Philippine capital with epic rainfall, but many river-bank villages in Manila's eastern outskirts today remain submerged in almost waist-deep stagnant water.
Filipinos who choose to stay behind in their flooded shanties are struggling to cope with the multiple challenges of living in floodwaters, and perhaps for months.
Barangay Lupang Pari, literally translates as the Land of Priests, is one of these towns of despair. Villagers sleep in stilted beds, eat canned sardines on balconies and ride makeshift boats to zigzag out of town in order to fetch clean drinking water.
"I don't want to leave my home. As long as the family is complete, I have no fears," 55-year-old Teresita Vitorino, a mother of thirteen and grandmother of four, told Xinhua.
She said despite a deluge of floodwaters, there is no casualty in this small village.
But elsewhere in the country, about 300 people drowned or were buried in landslides as more than one month's rain befell Metro Manila and surrounding areas on a single day -- September 26 -- when Kestana raged across central Luzon region.
Government data show that 16,300 houses were completely destroyed, 23,000 others were partially damaged. Around 316,902 people fled to 473 government temporary shelters which entail schools, churches, stadiums and even the presidential palace's compound.
There is no official head count of how many still living in flooded homes. Emily Lerma, who escaped from Lupang Pari to a major temporary shelter, said almost every evacuated family has somebody left behind to guard home assets such as cooking utensils against robbers.
"We can't move back now because there may be other storms coming, but we really have nowhere to go," she said.
To support the massive displaced remains a big challenge. The Philippine government is exhausting its disaster relief resources and has appealed for foreign aids. The U.N. agencies on Wednesday made a fresh appeal to raise 74 million U.S. dollars in order to carry out their response plans to help hundreds of thousands of homeless start life anew.
Officials said in some parts of the hard-hit areas it would take two months before floodwaters to completely subside through trash-filled drains and one more month to get rid of piles of garbage at roadsides and in the waterways.
Local newspaper on Thursday reported that dry land disappeared in hundreds of villages as the Laguna Lake, south of Manila, swelled. Riverside zones are now uninhabitable for more than 700,000 people.
Vitorino, who was born in Lupang Pari, said floods were worsened by an overflowing Pasig river not far from the village. Pasig, once a clear water channel through the heart of Manila, is now congested with mud and trash. It overflew at almost every heavy downpour in the past few years.
Lupang Pari villagers said they seem to have been ignored by the relief teams. Only came once the Army truck carrying food and other relief goods, they said. A couple of villagers, hungry for the food, got a bruised eye as they fought for canned sardines being hurtled out of the truck
Days passed, villagers now not just yearn for more food but also medicines.
"When the skin begins to feel itchy, we apply some alcohol and calamansi (a locally-grown lemon), and when it recovers, we get down and get wet again," Vitorino said, showing to reporters the rashes on her left leg.
Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III Wednesday said epidemic risk now runs very high in overcrowded temporary shelters and places surrounded by stagnant floodwaters.
Health experts said stagnant floodwaters usually serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread dengue and organisms that cause respiratory illnesses, allergies and skin diseases.
"I leave my family's safety to the God, but I do hope the government and agencies can provide us medicines," Vitorino said.
If floodwaters would take months to subside as officials estimated, Vitorino said her family would have to celebrate Christmas in their half-submerged home.
"We are ok with that. But what I fear most is once water starts to rise up again, we will really have nowhere to sleep," she said.