BATANGAN, Valencia City (MindaNews/27 December) – Flashfloods early Tuesday morning displaced an estimated 1,146 families in riverside barangays in the city, according to initial estimates from the City Social Welfare and Development Office, in what residents said had been the worst so far in 29 years.
Residents climbed to their roofs or the trees to wait for rescuers as rampaging waters from the Pulangi River invaded houses in 10 of the 31 barangays here. Water level went up by around four meters and had subsided by only about two meters as of Tuesday afternoon, Alejandro Larosa Jr., executive officer of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said.
Survivors fled their homes and are now temporary housed at the city gymnasium and the covered court in Barangay Batangan, one of the areas hit by the flood.
Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata told MindaNews all of those who were reported trapped Tuesday morning were rescued. He said no one has been confirmed to have drowned or died in the floods.
There were reports of three persons who drowned but nobody has come forward to give the names of the supposed victims.
The Philippine Army reported having rescued 230 persons with the use of helicopters, mostly from sitio Inawaan in Batangan where a clan, the Obugans, was holding a reunion party.
Larosa told MindaNews they had to suspend rescue operations in Barangay Catumbalon, where nine families were reported trapped as of 5p.m., as night approached. He said they will resume Wednesday morning.
Gov. Alex Calingasan announced in his speech at the Provincial Reconciliation and Peace Forum that about 300 persons were trapped in flashfloods in the city.
Meanwhile, Catarata clarified that it was actually the intake irrigation dam in Barangay San Isidro that collapsed, not the diversion dam in Lumbayao as earlier reported. He said it aggravated the strong water current downstream but stressed that heavy rains caused the river to overflow.
Jimmy Apostol, National Irrigation Administration Bukidnon manager, confirmed Catarata’s statement.
Two Philippine Air Force helicopters from Davao City bound for Cagayan de Oro City were asked to land in Malaybalay City only to be ordered to do rescue operations. With the help of another PAF helicopter from Cagayan de Oro, they airlifted residents who were trapped in Inawaan and neighboring villages.
The choppers arrived by around 10a.m. but even before they arrived local rescuers were already helping residents flee from the waters. Water rose at around 5a.m. and was reported to have started subsiding by 1p.m.
Edward Baldemiro, rescue responder at the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said residents were warned late Monday evening and early Tuesday morning but many of them ignored the warning and resisted being evacuated. He said some of the residents told them they had dealt with previous floods.
Daisy Castro, 53, who was among those rescued in Purok 2, Barangay Poblacion said they had gotten used to previous floods that were only knee- or waist-deep. She said the flood Tuesday was comparable only to the flood along the Pulangi in 1982, 29 years ago.
It was only when the water reached their roof on Tuesday morning that Castro and her neighbors began to panic.
Analyn Hernandez, 34, went to see their house washed out. She said she was afraid but she got no choice this time.
“We are glad my family is safe,” she added.
Narlita Poculan, 28, mother of two, said they were unable to grab anything.
“All I thought about was our safety. We left everything behind, anyway material things can be recovered,” she added.
The families of Castro, Hernandez, and Poculan are now in the city gymnasium, the biggest evacuation site.
“It’s our first time to evacuate but we have to do it,” Poculan said.
When asked if her family would have to return to the location of their house, she said they would go back once the floods subside.
“With what we saw on television (on the “Sendong” victims in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan), I felt the danger of the situation,” she said. “Now we have to evacuate.”
The CDRRMC still could not release initial and official figures on the floods and would not confirm reports there were casualties.
But Larosa, who led the rescue operations, said they faced residents who refused to leave their houses, including some of those they had rescued in past flashfloods.
“They refused to leave their dangerous locations,” he said.
Survivors in the evacuation sites said the experience of the flooding in Cagayan and Iligan cities as seen on television made them more alert and decide to flee ahead of the flashfloods.
“We are devastated, we lost our homes but we are luckier it happened at day time,” Fe Manangkila, 51, of Sitio Inayawan said.
Manangkila took a helicopter ride from Inawaan to the evacuation site in Batangan proper, where 363 families were housed.
At the city gym which is being used as an evacuation site for flood victims for the first time, 436 families have sought refuge.
Manangkila said most of Inawaan’s men were left in the village to guard their belongings.
“We were so afraid. It was terrifying. If it happened at night time, all of us could have been gone,” she added. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)