Preparing for the flood

Our first line of defense: sandbagging the gates from the outside. The tarpaulin lining further prevented the water from getting in during the Jan. 16, 2017 flood. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 18 Jan) – The worst flooding in our house happened last December 26, 2016. We were caught flat-footed because we miscalculated Typhoon Nina’s devastating power as it was so far away in Luzon. Why worry when you’re 500 miles away from danger?

Six inches of water and mud inside our house is nothing compared to what many have experienced in this flood-prone country. It’s just a little inconvenience on our part, but a nightmare just the same, evacuating things to the second floor, and cleaning up the mess the morning after. You just can’t hose everything away when cleaning the interiors. You have to mop each square foot, squeeze the muddy water into a pail, soak the mop in clean water, repeat a thousand times. And doing all these during the Christmas season when you’re supposed to be merry and bright.

Then there was “Auring” shortly after. We vowed “never again!” And did everything that could be done to prevent another flooding inside our home. How to keep our house dry obsessed us. But then Auring moved North, and we were spared.

The ground floor of our house during the Dec. 26, 2016 flood. We were caught flat-footed because Typhoon Nina that hit Luzon was 500 miles away. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

But our efforts paid off when the low pressure area came Monday evening (January 16), bringing in much more rain over a longer period. I can say it was the heaviest rain we’ve experienced since we moved into this house in 2007, but we managed to keep the inside of our house completely dry. In the past, less powerful rains caused flooding in our house thrice.

Although Sendong in December 2011 was the most devastating disaster this city had ever seen, our house was spared that time. Maybe because most of the rain poured into the mountains, then drained through the rivers. Luckily, we’re far from Iligan’s two major rivers.

But it’s different when the rains fall directly in downtown Iligan, or in our subdivision near the mountain, as what happened last Dec. 26. It appears that in our subdivision, our house is always the first to be inundated by floods.

The whining game

It’s easy to blame PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) for not giving enough warning (in fairness, they did), or the city government for not having planned enough, or the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) for building a diversion road in a mountain not far from us, or the rich guy who opposed and literally blocked construction of that road and thus no canals have been built yet to direct the flow of rain water, etc. etc. etc.

During the flood that hit Iligan and Cagayan de Oro city last Jan. 16, 2017, which was worse than the Dec. 26, 2016 flood, the water got only in our garage. Notice the tarpaulin-covered sandbags guarding the door on the right, which was our second line of defense. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

But enough of the whining; it’s time to put matters into our own hands. So my wife and I sat down together to plan, browsed the Web for anti-flood measures. I like it when we sit down, discuss a problem, and come up with solutions, even if our expertise (journalism and medicine) have nothing to do with issues like dealing with floods.

Here’s what we thought we can solve on our own: 1) prevent the water from coming in, and 2) drain out the water that gets in as fast as possible. We acknowledged the things we don’t have control over – stop the rain from falling, and for government to manage the flood properly – and we just have to live with that, for now.

Googling for anti-flood solutions for the home gave results, showing what they’re doing in advanced countries – mostly inflatable plastic tubes and metal panels with rubber lining on the edges. They are expensive by our standards, and are not available locally. Being big, heavy things, Amazon can’t deliver them on your doorsteps right away using drones. We’ve been thinking of fabricating those metal barriers, we’ve come up with some designs, but it’ll take time to build them. What we need is something that we can do ASAP.

Sandbagging

As I whined in my Instagram and Facebook accounts after the Dec. 26 flood, my friend Elmer suggested that the “quick fix” could be sandbagging while we’re waiting for government to remedy the flood problem, which is unlikely to happen in my lifetime.

Putting the sandbags from the inside, as in this case in our garage gate, is not as effective as placing them outside. The strong flood current on Jan. 16, 2017 moved the heavy sandbags that we had to reinforce them as the flood was ongoing. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

A little googling and we found a tutorial on Youtube how to do it. Okay, that’s doable. Materials are readily available, and cheap. So I bought sacks from rice vendors – the size that contains 25kg, coz the 50kg sack would be sooo heavy – and went to the area selling sand and other aggregates.

The idea is to put tarpaulin first as lining to help prevent seepage, then place a series of sandbags, two layers if possible. It’s easier for us because our doors don’t have screens. So we placed the sandbags outside, and no problem opening the doors that swing inward. The gates posed a problem though, because they’re too wide. The sandbags in the garage gate was most difficult to install, because once we set them up, you can’t bring the cars out. But it’s okay because once our street is flooded, you also can’t drive the cars. We decided that we’ll just put the sandbags in the garage gate when we’re already sure that the flood would come.

All in all, I must have bought over a hundred sacks of sand to cover all four doors in the house (including one wide double-door), the gate in the garage, the service gate, and the other gate leading to the garden.

At 20 pesos per sack of sand plus five pesos for the sack, it’s worth the expense. It’s backbreaking work, but our two-wheeled stroller, the one used by laborers to carry sacks of rice, helped a lot.

Did it work? Looks like it did. Not completely, but it did. During the flood last Monday, we could peep through the cracks in the wooden gate and see that the water level outside was higher than what got into the garage. There was still water that got through the gate, but not enough to get to the floor level of our house. In the other gate, the one leading to the garden, water used to flow briskly, flooding the whole garden fast. But this time, the garden was okay, with the water only at ankle-level, but only in the small area near the gate.

Check the drainage

Next came the realization that while floods got into the compound of our next-door neighbors, the water didn’t get inside their homes. Something’s wrong somewhere inside our compound.

To make sure that water drains well in the circumferential canal of our compound, we covered it with fisherman’s net to catch the falling leaves. The leaves clogged the drainage during previous floods. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

Around our house is a concrete drainage canal a foot wide and a little over two feet deep designed to drain water into the big culvert by the roadside set up by the subdivision developer. That’s drainage on the front part side of the house. On the rear part, the canal drains into an open lot during heavy rains.

After the flood last Dec. 26, I checked the drainage at the back. They were all clogged with dry leaves and other debris. No wonder the floodwater that entered our gates got stuck inside, continued to rise fast and entered our house.

I cleaned them all. But how to prevent the leaves from clogging them again? Cutting the trees and the plants in our garden is out of the question. Those are among the main reasons we oh so love this house, enjoying the trees’ cooling effect, and listening to the birds’ merry chatter while they rest on the branches.

We thought of covering the canal with concrete panels. But that would be expensive, takes a while to build amid the race against Auring coming too soon, and we can’t easily monitor if something’s stuck underneath.

Solution: cover those parts of the canal by the garden with screen, something strong and set up sturdy enough to survive the rain and the flood, yet easily removable so we could clean the canal as needed. We used fishermen’s net, 27 meters in all, and hired three guys to do the job. It was done in less than two days.

Yes, it worked. The screen caught the falling leaves, and the rain water was draining fast on the rear part of our house. Whereas the canal used to regularly overflow with the strong rains, water was six inches below the topmost level of the canal last Monday.

Backflow

There’s yet another problem with our circumferential canal – when the street outside gets flooded, the water flows back towards the house, thus causing the canal to overflow sooner. We installed valves on both ends, which stay open most of the time, but could be closed as needed, when the water starts to backflow.

For now, the valves are just half-inch thick marine plywood. They’re not completely watertight, but they reduced water flow significantly. They won’t last for years, we know, and we’ll change them with better material later.

Flood in the 2nd floor?!

What surprised us most was when water got into the second floor, in an open area that has become our movie room, where we brought the things we evacuated from the first floor.

The water was coming from the door leading to the balcony. The balcony flooring has a slight incline, going down outward so rainwater would flow away from the door, and into two drainage holes near the outer edge. To further prevent rainwater from coming in, there’s a 5mm concrete barrier by the door.

That was the logical flooring design, right? But then we added small trees and other plants in pots in the balcony. My wife just loves plants, so they’re everywhere – in the garden of course, in the atrium in the middle of the house under a fiberglass roof, in the balcony, in the loggia outside our dining area, in the hallways, in the bedrooms, and sometimes even in the toilets.

The drainage holes in the balcony in the second floor was also covered with leaves in the previous flood, so we bought cheap strainers to cover the holes. We placed half a brick on top to prevent the strainer from being moved by the water. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

The price of the beautiful greenery? Again, leaves clogged the drainage in the balcony, and so the water rose, and got inside.

Solution: We bought cheap strainers about six inches wide from a bargain shop to cover the drainage holes, and placed half a brick on top to keep them stable. It worked! Leaves don’t clog the holes anymore as they are trapped around the strainer’s circumference.

As I said, our “worst” flood was nothing compared to what others have gone through. But I hope you learned some lessons here, and do something to help prevent the flood from coming into our homes, instead of just blaming government all the time.

What we did may work on moderate flooding, with just a few inches to maybe up to a meter of rainfall, but definitely not at the level of what happened to Cagayan de Oro last Monday, or in areas submerged during the flashfloods of Sendong here in my hometown more than five years ago when logs swept away houses. (Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)

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