SANTIAGO, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/02 February) – The highway is now a virtual sea.
Hundreds of commuters between Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte were stranded Wednesday when the waters of Lake Mainit overflowed into the highway, rendering portions of the highway impassable.
A still undetermined number of houses along the roadside from Santiago to Jabonga to Kitcharao towns in Agusan del Norte were submerged by lake waters that also reached the second floor of a lakeside hotel.
Lake Mainit is the fourth largest lake in the country, having a surface area of 17,060.00 hectares. Several websites point to it also as the deepest lake with a maximum depth of 223 meters, but the website of the Lake Mainit Development Alliance, does not make that claim.
Motorists from Agusan del Norte stopped at Purok 8 in Barangay Tagbuyakan here as the highway turned into a virtual sea.
The Department of Public Works and Highways put up “Slow down, flooded area” signs while children, unmindful of the danger, frolicked in the floodwaters.
Residents said it wasn’t the first time they experienced flooding but this was the worst.
Where buses used to ply the highway, small bancas took over in ferrying passengers from Purok 8 to Purok 7 about 300 meters away, for ten to twenty pesos, ten if the passengers ask for discount.
“This is the first time this happened,” fisherman Oscar Morano, 51, said of the flooded highway. As of 4 p.m., Moranos had earned 200 pesos from ferrying passengers across the knee- to waist-deep waters.
An enterprising truck owner also transported passengers from Purok 8 to Purok 7 for twenty pesos and fifty pesos farther ahead, while a pumpboat ferried passengers and a cargo of several cases of soft drinks, across the lake to Jabonga town, five kilometers along the highway on normal days.
Elmer Nasinaring, whose houses and two other houses of his relatives in Purok 7 were destroyed by floodwaters, said houses, schools and even the gymnasium in Puroks 4, 3 and 2, were under water.
At least 15 passenger buses, at least 50 cargo trucks and other vehicles bound for Surigao also stayed on the roadside while others turned back.
Hardest hit among the eight lakeside towns in Agusan del Norte is Jabonga, five kilometers from Purok 8 here.
Madel Morados, retired regional director of the Department of Science and Technology in Davao City, has been monitoring the situation in her hometown in Jabonga and was told their ancestral home is under water. “In my cousin’s house, floodwaters had reached the second floor,” she told MindaNews by telephone.
She lamented the state of the watershed and reforestation and mining operations.
According to a presentation transcript on Lake Mainit and its Watershed of the Lake Mainit Development Alliance, among the “issues and effects confronting our lake and the watershed” is continued timber poaching and kaingin inside the watershed. This in turn, has led to destruction of unquantifiable flora and fauna including its habitat, massive soil erosion and landslides in the area where the felled trees are dragged, flashflood and siltation in the lowland especially along the lakeshore.
In Barangay La Paz, also in Santiago town, barangay chair Margarita Lim said around 80% of the 192 families in her village had fled to higher grounds.
She told MindaNews that while they are used to a few inches of floodwaters, “karon ang pinakadako” (now is the worst).
She said floodwaters had reached waist-deep in her house.
Lim explained that Kalinawan River, the lake’s outlet, also overflowed, inundating several areas in her village.
Thirty-year old Eva Recuerme, mother of five and a resident of Purok 4, said they fled to the two-story barangay hall Monday, to seek refuge, initially on the ground floor. But the waters rose as the rains continued, forcing them to go to the second floor.
By Wednesday morning, they opted to move out. The municipal government sent trucks to ferry residents from their flooded villages to the town center. Other residents navigated through the floodwaters on a raft fashioned out of banana trunks.
“Usa ra gyud ka Orocan nga baro ang akong nadala” (All that I managed to bring is a plastic bin containing clothes), Recuerme said.
She said when she returned to get things from her house on Tuesday, the house was gone. “Pagbalik nako, wala na.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)