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Philippine Flood Disaster was Foretold

Posted: Dec 19, 2011

MANILA--The flash flooding that killed more than 600 in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on Mindanao island in the Philippines was foretold three years ago, but the warning was dismissed by lawmakers as “too alarmist.”

Environmentalists said a simulation of the effects of extreme weather events from climate change such as saltwater intrusion, sea level rise and intense tropical cyclones, showed that major Philippine cities, including Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, were at risk of massive flooding. The simulation of the effects of extreme weather phenomena was drafted in 2009 by the Philippine Imperative for Climate Change (PICC), WWF and Filipino scientists.

Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF), said Monday the events in Northern Mindanao over the weekend mirrored the prediction. “It was an exact fit,” Tan said.

“At best, this might provide a very rough indicator of areas that may be more vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, saltwater intrusion or a combination thereof,” the group’s presentation said.

Nereus Acosta, who headed the PICC and currently serves as the presidential adviser for environment, said the simulation showed that the coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Northern Mindanao would be ravaged by massive floods from the overflow of river basins and sea level increase.

Mountain range, coast

“Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are vulnerable because they sit near mountain ranges and are coastal areas,” Acosta said. “It would really hit where it hit now.”

The simulations showed water from the sea and the Cagayan River overflowing to cover large parts of the two cities. In Cagayan de Oro, the most affected was the western side, the same area that bore the brunt of Tropical Storm “Sendong.”

In Iligan City, the floods would encroach on the city, according to the simulation. This happened last weekend, Acosta said.

Scoffed at

Acosta and Tan said their findings were scoffed at when it was shown to lawmakers three years ago. “They said I was being too alarmist,” Acosta said.

Tan said people should be rightly alarmed by the PICC report. “This is the reality,” he said.

The head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the huge volume of water that Sendong dumped on Northern Mindanao was unexpected.

“The people did not expect this and the government also did not expect this, that we will have 181 millimeters of rain. This is not in the path of typhoons,” NDRRMC Executive Director Benito Ramos said on Sunday.

Illegal settlers

Ramos said he saw from his helicopter ride with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin that most of the victims lived along the river.

“There are many illegal settlers. I hope the city government did not authorize them to construct houses beside the river,” Ramos said.

Ramos said many of the victims did not heed the weather bureau’s warning about the storm.

An official of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the rains brought by Sendong were not the main cause of the floods in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

“It’s the topography. The water came from the mountains that’s why it happened so fast,” said Pagasa Deputy Administrator Flaviana Hilario.

“This was not caused by just a simple rain,” she added.

Floods due to rains accumulate slower, according to Hilario. Pictures from the field showed the flood carrying logs, heavy rocks and plenty of mud, an indication that the water came from the mountains, she said.

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