Deluge in December
I work in Manila on weekdays and spend my weekends in Cagayan province where my wife and our son stay. Last Friday, I feared the cancellation of my flight because Northeastern Luzon had been pummeled by heavy rains for continuous days, even after Typhoon “Tisoy”had left the country. But the rain stopped momentarily that day, and our plane was cleared to fly.
As our plane descended for landing, I saw the extent of devastation from the air. The mighty Cagayan river had overflowed enormously, inundating communities in low-lying plains. I saw houses submerged with only their rooftops visible. What used to be expansive farmlands had turned into bodies of water.
From the Tuguegarao airport, I usually travel by car for an hour to reach my wife’s hometown, Alcala. This time, my wife advised me that halfway through the land trip, I will have to board a hand tractor to traverse a flooded stretch of the highway. She will then use a boat to pick me up and we would navigate through areas that used to be cornfields and rice fields but which became extensions of the river.
As we motored, I saw ground-level scenes of devastation. In many areas, waist-deep floodwaters had entered houses situated along the road. Before, I could only see short portions of the Cagayan river because while both the river and the road snake together up to Aparri in the north, anywhere between several hundred meters and a few kilometers of farmlands separate the two, for the most part of their lengths. This time, however, floodwaters had engulfed the farmlands, extending up to the very edge of the highway.
I was greatly bothered imagining the fate of the people living in the many barangays located on the other side of the river.
Residents who had abandoned their flooded homes sought shelter on higher ground by staying in tents by the roadsides. I also saw so many carabaos, cows, pigs and goats tied to roadside trees, electric posts and barriers.
I didn’t reach Alcala that day because policemen stopped vehicles from traveling farther before I could arrive at our agreed meeting point. My wife also had to turn back because swirling waters and floating logs posed grave danger to their safety.
I went back to Tuguegarao and spent the night reading news and viewing online photos of the damage caused by the floods in the whole Cagayan Valley region. In Cagayan province, 18 towns were reportedly submerged in floodwaters, and in its capital city alone, Tuguegarao, 25 barangays were underwater. In the town of Alcala, 2,834 houses were submerged, and 10,102 residents were affected.
In Isabela province, 11 towns were severely affected by flooding, with Ilagan, the capital city, one of the worst-hit. Pictures show a portion of the river in Ilagan full of floating logs and forest debris, clearly showing that illegal logging is rampant in the Sierra Madre mountains.
The people of Cagayan Valley are used to natural calamities because the region is a regular path for strong typhoons that visit our country multiple times a year. The people of the region have developed the instinctive ability to stand up on their own, without waiting for outside help. As a result, the calamities in this region do not get much news coverage, and not a commensurate attention from national government relief operations, as compared to other regions which go through less devastating calamities.
This deluge in December is different from past floods in Cagayan, however. This is the first time that floodwaters made multiple areas of the national highway impassable, showing the enormous volume of the floodwaters. The extent of damage to houses, crops and livestock is huge. The government should mount massive relief operations.
One news item I read while stranded in Tuguegarao talked about predictions by climate scientists that coastal cities around the world like Metro Manila will be submerged by coastal flooding 30 years from now, as a result of climate change.
With the forces unleashed by the combined effects of climate change and the deforestation of our mountains, massive flooding has arrived 30 years ahead for the inland towns of Cagayan and Isabela.
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