TAGUM CITY, Philippines—A banana plantation security guard who just wanted to rescue his co-employees from the floods that hit Kapalong, Davao del Norte, drowned early Thursday while hundreds of other terrified villagers fled from the deluge that also inundated areas in Talaingod town in the same province.
Sonio Sanchez, Davao del Norte disaster prevention and response manager, said the security guard—identified in a report furnished by the military as Nelson Jimenez—was overwhelmed by strong current while helping rescue fellow employees from being trapped inside their quarters at the Dole-Stanfilco plantation in Barangay (village) Sampao in Kapalong around 1 a.m.
Capt. Nathaniel Morales of the Army’s 3rd Communication and Information Company said the rushing mixture of mud and water and other debris had carried the hapless security guard several kilometers away.
“He was doing the rounds in warning people to evacuate, but some hard-headed folk decided to stay in their homes and got trapped as the water level rose,” Morales said.
He said Jimenez, who was trained in disaster response, was described by his peers as a man of big heart because he always went out of his way to help those in distress.
“He tied a rope around his waist but got swept away by the raging floodwaters,” Morales said.
In trying to illustrate how powerful the current was, Morales said the flood waters even washed away houses.
He said Jimenez was already dead when found moments later.
Sanchez said the muddy floodwaters—triggered by incessant rains—cascaded down the province’s hinterlands and converged at low-lying communities of Talaingod and Kapalong.
He said the situation was made worse by the swelling of the Nanaga River that inundated, particularly, Sto. Niño and Palma Gil villages in Talaingod.
“It washed away houses and sent hundreds of residents packing toward evacuation centers,” Sanchez said, adding the situation was similar in Kapalong.
He said the provincial government immediately mobilized teams to conduct search-and-rescue operations in total darkness.
“The flooding came so swiftly, with the water mixed with mud, rising so quickly. In just over an hour, the water was very high and homes were either washed away or submerged,” Sanchez said without providing estimates of how high the water level had become.
Morales said the military has dispatched vehicles to the flooded areas to help evacuate residents to safer ground.
“Soldiers also assisted in the evacuation efforts,” he said.
But Sanchez said while floods did hit the two towns, there was no truth to reports of a landslide occurring in Talaingod on Thursday.
Just a few hours after the floods, reports had it that a landslide buried many people there.
Romulo Tagalo, information officer of the Davao del Norte government, said a landslide did occur in Barangay Mambing in New Corella town on Tuesday, affecting at least six hectares of land, destroying 33 houses and sending thick mud to portions of roads.
“There were no reported casualties so far. The 33 families affected by the landslides are safe,” he said.
Sanchez said they have alerted those in the hinterlands to watch out for signs of possible danger and local officials in other low-lying towns, such as Carmen and Braulio Dujali, were told to brace for possible flooding after a rise in water level was monitored in Patil, a community in upland Kapalong.
The fresh floods occurred as the province was still reeling from similar occurrences in the past months, including one that affected a large area early this month.
Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario earlier said that some areas of the province has become unsafe and these were identified in geohazard maps drawn out by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
He cited the whole town of Carmen, an agricultural area of Davao del Norte, as facing “clear and present danger.”
He said while something could still be done to ease the problem on floods in the other areas, Carmen’s case appeared to be hopeless because it has been sitting at an area below sea level, making it at high risk to flooding during the rise of the water levels.
Asked what could possibly be done with Carmen’s case, Del Rosario said early this month: “I may advise them (officials and residents) to relocate to higher ground.”
He, however, admitted that his idea would be easier said than done because aside from moving out people, new structures would also have to be built on the new area. This task, he said, would entail large sums of money.
“It’s the municipal government that will have to decide and spend money for it, and such decision will entail long deliberations,” Del Rosario said.—With reports from Jeoffrey Maitem and Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao