2 rivers swallow island villages
Residents of Isla de Oro, an islet at the mouth of Cagayan River that was swept away by flash floods from Tropical Storm “Sendong,” did not stand a chance against Mother Nature.
Those of another island at the mouth of the Mandulog River in Iligan City were also carried away by surging water. Less than a third of the families living there before the deluge have been accounted for.
Officials said there should be no people on Isla de Oro. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the area was not an island, but a sandbar.
It was formed by accumulation of sand and silt at the mouth of the Cagayan River, where the freshwater meets the sea water of Macajalar Bay.
Thus, when Sendong tore through northern Mindanao, Isla de Oro, a densely populated area of informal settlers, was buffeted by storm surges on one side and by the formidable flash floods on another side.
“The entire Isla de Oro should not be inhabited,” Paje said.
The tragedy that erased Isla de Oro and other coastal villages in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, the two cities that were swallowed by murky floodwaters last weekend when Sendong hit, underlined the need for local governments to heed geohazard maps, officials said.
Survivors from Bayug Island in Iligan feared that many of their fellow villagers may have perished from the floods.
Perigrina Mantos, emergency program coordinator of the Iligan city government, said there were at least 341 families on Bayug Island. But of the 341 families, only 100 (families) have so far been accounted for.
Melvin Anggot, city information officer, said the remaining 241 families could account for at least 1,100 individuals.
The city’s social welfare and development office reported that 214 bodies had been retrieved and 447 others remained missing.
A few survivors told the Inquirer that when the river began to swell, many residents had been sleeping and had been caught unawares by what was happening.
Although the rains fell continuously for hours, it was just considered a natural phenomenon. When the strong currents swept in, some residents fought to survive alongside cows, carabaos, chickens, dogs and pigs.
Some people held on to trees. Some were found dead still holding on to trunks or branches while the others had broken limbs and crushed heads.
“Most of us were swept away by the raging waters,” Lorebel Casillano said.
As of Sunday, Casillano had yet to find her husband, their 10-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
She said that many of them acted too late because they were not expecting the water to rise that high soon. “We banked on our experience when flood waters would only go up as high as the waist, and that was a long time ago,” Casillano said.
When water was knee-deep at around midnight, Casillano was still lifting their things to higher parts of the house.
Within 30 minutes, the water was already waist-deep, prompting her to wake her two children.
She just pushed both of them to the the roof of a neighbor’s house when a rush of water swept her away. Moments later, she saw the house where her children had sought refuge also swept away.
Another Bayug Island resident, Janice Macapil, said that her four-member family just clung to a coconut tree in time for the surge of water along the Mandulog River.
Casillano and Macapil said the island had more than 300 families spread across eight puroks (subvillages). In their purok alone, there were some 50 families.
Located at the mouth of Mandulog River, Bayug island had a land area of some 300 hectares. Lately, it hosted a 25-hectare urban poor housing project, especially those affected by fire in Mahayahay village in October.
But now, the island is a devastated place with scores of dead residents, houses swept by flash floods, fallen trees and other debris.
Leo Jasareno, chief of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), which produces the government’s geohazard maps to guide planners and builders, said Isla de Oro had been designated as critical for being prone to flash floods.
In 2009, officials of Cagayan de Oro asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to rezone the area to allow the titling of plots. Jasareno and Paje said they turned down the request.
Part of river
“It is a sandbar. It is part of the river. Any time in the future, the river will claim it,” Jasareno said.
Paje said the environment department had issued geohazard maps to all villages. The maps identify areas that are prone to floods and landslides.
The DENR has so far distributed 65,000 maps to the country’s 42,000 barangays.
“We are calling on all local government units to please implement the hazard maps and imbibe it by heart,” Paje said. This, he said, would reduce the loss of lives and properties during extreme weather events.
“We should not fight with nature. We should adapt to it so people will be saved,” Paje said.
Aside from Isla de Oro, a large part of Cagayan de Oro is considered flood prone. In the geohazard map prepared by the MGB, the coast line and the areas on both banks of Cagayan River are considered highly susceptible to floods.
Jasareno said Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were both prone to flash floods.
Not only are they near the shore, the two cities are also riddled with rivers and tributaries.
The Cagayan River, one of the major drainage systems in Mindanao, traverses Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. The river’s headwaters come from the Kalatungan Mountain Range in Bukidnon, where it flows northward and empties into the Macajalar Bay.
The river is known for its strong flow because of its topographic features, Paje said.
The terrain of the river is uneven. “Some areas are flat, some areas are steep. The higher the slope, the higher the incidence of flash floods and landslide,” Paje said. With reports from Christine Ortega and Tito Fiel, Inquirer Mindanao
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.