Cagayan valley is under water in the Philippines

Vehicles travel along a flooded street in Pasir Mas December 2, 2019. — Bernama pic. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, Nov 15, 2020, The Manila Times. Cagayan was submerged in water late Friday night in what local authorities described as the “worst” flooding in the region since 1981, killing more than a dozen people and affecting over 300,000 others, authorities said on Saturday, The Manila Times reported.

The heavy floods were caused by the release of water from the Magat Dam and the continuous downpour from the weather disturbances that hit the region, the most recent of which was Typhoon “Ulysses” (international name: “Vamco”).

With the level at the Magat Dam, Cagayan’s reservoir, rising to 192.99 meters, .01 meters short of its spilling level of 193 meters at 10 p.m., the National Irrigation Administration-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System (NIA-Mariis) was forced to open all of its seven spillway gates to about 30 meters, releasing over 6,000 cubic meters per second (cms) of water late Friday night.

At least 16 people were confirmed dead from the floods and a total of 343,202 residents in 22 cities and municipalities in Cagayan province, 25 cities and municipalities in Isabela, 15 municipalities in Nueva Vizcaya and five municipalities in Quirino were affected, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

The NIA-Mariis said it was necessary to release water from the reservoir to prevent the dam from reaching its spilling level which as of 2 p.m. on Saturday, was down to 192.18 or .82 meters from its spilling level at 193 meters with an inflow of 1,153 m3/s and outflow of 1,340 m3/s as only two spillway gates were opened at 4 meters.

‘On top of the situation’

Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte was saddened by the situation but was “on top of the situation.”

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. told a virtual press briefing that Duterte, who was currently attending the virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was “in constant communication” with the NDRRMC; Departments of Defense, Social Welfare and Development, Health, Public Works and Highways; and other concerned government agencies and denied reports that the government was “caught unaware” by the situation in Region 2 (Cagayan Valley).

Affirming the President’s promise that “no one will be left behind,” Roque said the government would use all its resources to help the region.

“As early as dawn yesterday, the Department of Transportation, through the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), has been working round-the-clock with the rescue of 15 individuals in Modelro, Sitio Pantalan and Pantabangan in Tumauini, Isabela; 50 individuals in Barangay 12, Tuguegarao City; 47 individuals in Pengue Ruyu, Tuguegarao City; 13 individuals in Caritan Norte, Diversion Road, and Anufuan West, Tuguegarao City; and 70 individuals in Linao East, Tuguegarao City,” Roque said in a separate statement.

The PCG deployed the first convoy of augmentation, composed of 10 rescue personnel, one multipurpose vehicle, one truck and several newly-procured rubber boats, and the second convoy of deployable response groups or DRGs of 60 rescue and medical personnel, two buses, one 12-wheeler boom truck, two M-35 trucks, and a total of seven drivers to aid the ongoing rescue operations in Isabela, Tuguegarao, and Cagayan, Roque said.

The rescuers are also equipped with two rubber boats and three generator sets, as well as 44 drums of fuel for the rescue assets and vehicles.

The Palace official said another convoy, composed of two trucks, was also on its way after loading 20 drums of fuel for the two Coast Guard airbus light twin engine helicopters that will be used to conduct aerial extraction.

Roque said the Philippine National Police deployed 747 Search and Rescue personnel and 1,003 Reactionary Standby Support Force in Region 2 as of 6 a.m. on Saturday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), shifted efforts from counterinsurgency to search, rescue, retrieval and relief operations in the Cordillera Administrative Region and Region 2.

In addition, Roque said that two Hueys were sent by Nolcom from Clark to Cauayan, Isabela for operations in Cagayan, particularly Tuguegarao, for rescue and relief delivery operations to communities isolated by not passable roads.

NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal told The Manila Times in a text message that more than 3,700 personnel were deployed to support the 24-hour rescue operations of the local government units (LGUs) “despite the strong currents of the flood waters and low visibility.”

Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo mobilized her team to help out in coordinating with various rescue teams from the military and police.

In a Facebook Live video on Friday evening — just right after relief operations in Marikina City and Rizal — Robredo said she had immediately mobilized her security team after reading social media posts calling for help from the Northern part of the country.

“Our prayers for Cagayan and Isabela. Reading posts now of people asking to be rescued. We deployed our security team to coordinate with AFP all the calls for rescue we are reading now. Will be monitoring and will post updates,” she said in a separate Twitter post on Friday evening.

‘Pacific Ocean’

In a radio interview, Col. Ascio Macalan, Cagayan’s disaster official, said the province has turned into the “Pacific Ocean.”

A total of 13,954 persons were staying in evacuation centers while 3,798 residents were evacuated but staying with their relatives, the NDRRMC said.

‘Roads vanished’

Lt. Col. Rowan Rimas, Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 commanding officer, appealed to authorities saying, “Cagayan needs help. They need us. Let us help them please.”

“The highway, the roads just vanished. Truly heartbreaking. Words can’t explain what I am feeling right now. I know God will give us the strength to overcome this,” Rimas said.

He said it had been two hours and they had yet to reach the town of Iguig, which is north of Tuguegarao City, but was optimistic that “we will get there, slowly.”

“For now, I’ll stick to my mission. Bring my Marines in Tuguegarao at all costs and save as many lives as possible. Those people we passed by are in dire need of drinking water and food. We shared some of our rations with them,” Rimas said.

Gov. Manuel Mamba said Cagayan province has been placed under a state of calamity by virtue of Resolution 2020-10-768 released by the provincial board special session.

The resolution said, “The closure of roads and bridges, destruction of communities, agriculture, livestock and other infrastructures have gravely affected the lives of the people.”

Damaged infrastructure, crops, livestock and property in Cagayan have yet to be determined, according to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO).

PDRRMO officials also confirmed a total of eight fatalities, four in Baggao town who died from a landslide, one drowned and two electrocuted in Alcala, and one drowned in Tuguegarao City.

‘Ulysses’ wrath

It was during the downpour by Ulysses on Wednesday that caused some 20 rivers to swell and fill up the Cagayan River, causing massive flooding and landslides in Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan provinces.

The Cagayan River, which is also known as Rio Grande de Cagayan, is the longest river and largest river by discharge volume of water in the Philippines with a total length of approximately 505 kilometers and a drainage basin covering 27,753 square kilometers. It traverses Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Isabela and Cagayan.

Engineer Carlo Ablan, NIA-Mariis Flood Forecasting and Instrument Section head, said the Magat River system, whose water was impounded at the Magat Dam reservoir, is one of 20 Cagayan River’s tributaries.

The other Cagayan River tributaries that largely contributed to the swelling of Cagayan River were the rivers of Diduyon, Addalam, Dabubu, Dibuluan, Dumatata, Ganano, Diadi, Disabungan, Ilagan, Bintacan, Tumauini, Pinacanauan de Cabagan, Pinacanauan, Mallig, Sifu, Taotao, Pared, Chico and Dummon.

‘Worst flood’

Mamba said the provincial government deployed rescuers to help 13,000 families or 47,000 residents who were severely affected by the floods caused by Ulysses and the monsoon rains.

Rogelio Sending Jr., Cagayan provincial information officer, said 20 out of 29 towns and Tuguegarao City have been either isolated or flooded as villagers trooped to evacuation centers, higher grounds or relatives.

The province has been literally in a sea of floodwater, the highest in 40 years while Buntun Bridge and Namabbalan are closed to traffic so as to protect motorists, Sending added.

Buntun Bridge’s level is down to 12.8-meters, lower than than the 13.3 meters recorded on Friday night.

Many villagers in 156 villages from 24 towns and in Tuguegarao City were trapped on their rooftops, which have become their temporary shelters.

Robredo said the same security team had handled rescue coordination efforts in Marikina City and Rizal at the height of the onslaught of Ulysses, that had also left residents stranded on roofs of houses on Thursday.

House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means Chairman and Albay Second District Rep. Jose Maria “Joey” Salceda asked LGUs that had not been affected by recent typhoons to mobilize their untapped calamity funds toward assisting devastated provinces such as Cagayan and Isabela.

Prior to Ulysses, Typhoons “Quinta” and “Rolly” had also devastated the Bicol Region in a span of weeks. Salceda stressed the need to assist affected LGUs as many have used up much of their resources for pandemic response.

Salceda pointed out that the unaffected LGUs may transfer underutilized local disaster risk reduction management funds to support other LGUs declared under state of calamity, which is provided under Section 21 of the Republic Act 10121 or “Philippine Disaster Reduction and Management Act.”

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