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Editorial

Killer weather

/ 12:32 AM January 20, 2017

When the rains came, they came for the children. At least eight children were among the 11 lives claimed by the torrential rains that swamped many parts of Mindanao, especially Northern Mindanao, and the Western Visayas last Monday.

In Naga, Cebu province, four-year-old Aileen Rose Paquit was still in bed in her family’s shanty, sleeping, when a flash flood swept her and her mother away at around 7 a.m. Aileen Rose died while being taken to a hospital.

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In Northern Mindanao, four children were among six persons killed by runaway floodwaters: Jaime Chan, three, in Gingoog City; CJ Lapuz, seven, in Magsaysay town; Kian Montecino, 10, in Opol town; and Renny Boy Cabido, in Cagayan de Oro City.

In Zamboanga del Norte, two children were first reported missing, and then eventually found dead. Local authorities in Sapang Dalaga, Misamis Occidental, also reported that a child believed to be between 8 and 12 years old had been found dead.

The floods struck Cagayan de Oro hard; major streets were flooded as the rains continued to pour, thousands of students and employees were stranded in schools and offices, and some 1,345 families had to be evacuated to safety. The city council declared a state of calamity. At its worst, the heavy rains and the flash floods brought back nightmarish memories of “Sendong,” which killed about 1,000 residents.

But Cagayan de Oro was not the only area seriously affected by the unusually heavy rains. Heavy floods were reported in many other places, including Naga in Cebu and Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental; landslides were reported in Cebu City and in Cagayan de Oro.

The casualty toll is much lower than that recorded in the wake of Sendong in 2011; that comes as a relief and is a good sign, that citizens are readier to heed warning signals and follow evacuation orders—and to help each other out. But it is also true that, unlike in the case of Sendong, the rains fell heavily during daytime; that meant that most residents in the affected areas were awake, and thus were able to secure themselves. In other words, it could have been worse.

Both the national government and the local authorities responded to the crisis in the making with all necessary speed. The Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, based in Cagayan de Oro, fielded its trucks to bring food to the stranded and to evacuate residents. All told, the Armed Forces ferried residents to a total of 53 evacuation centers in Misamis Oriental. The Department of Social Welfare and Development was ready with its relief packs.  The “government is doing everything to ensure that things go back to normal especially now that the weather is improving and [the] roads are again passable,” President Duterte’s spokesperson, Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, said in a statement.

The many official and volunteer networks, for identifying the crisis areas or rescuing the stranded or coordinating the collection of relief goods, also swung into action.

Preliminary fieldwork suggests that the public works improvements begun after Sendong, while not all complete, had a positive impact. The problem may have been with the drainage systems in the affected cities, likely the result of local economies thriving despite or rather because of the lack of adequate urban planning.

To be sure, the steady rains the preceding weekend, and then the downpour on Monday, did not spare the countryside, too. The oversaturated earth led to the landslides.

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But when Sendong happened in 2011, the unusually high amount of rainfall was said to be a rare occurrence, perhaps something that happens once every 20 years or so. This week’s misfortune proves that, in a time when the effects of global warming are increasingly being felt, we need to redefine, not only what we mean by acceptable levels of risk, but also what we mean by unusual or extraordinary weather events.

In 2009, “Ondoy” struck Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon. That was supposed to be a once-in-a-hundred-years event. Three years later, flash floods of almost the same magnitude swamped the capital region again. The weather is telling us something.

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TAGS: Disaster, editorial, Flood, Mindanao, opinion, rain, Visayas, weather
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