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Typhoon puts Iloilo under water

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau
First Posted 02:40:00 06/23/2008

Filed Under: Typhoon Frank, Meteorological disaster, Disasters (general), Flood

ILOILO CITY?Many residents spent the night on rooftops and desperately cried for help early Sunday as floods spawned by Typhoon ?Frank? (international codename: Fengshen) submerged most of Iloilo province and its capital city.

?This is the worst flash flood that the province has experienced,? said Jerry Bionat, executive officer of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC). Almost all of Iloilo?s 42 towns and this city, including those that had not previously experienced flooding, were under water, he said.

Officials said it was the worst flooding experienced in Western Visayas, with the number of fatalities rising to 81. Fifty-two people died in Iloilo province, 15 in Antique, six in Iloilo City, and four each in the provinces of Capiz and Negros Occidental. Still missing were at least 136 others, including 78 in Iloilo and 55 in Antique, according to disaster officials.

The figures were expected to increase as reports trickled in from towns and villages, many of which were still isolated by floodwaters.

The provinces of Iloilo and Capiz and the cities of Iloilo and Roxas are expected to be placed under states of calamity on Monday.

Rescue and relief agencies scrambled to reach the typhoon victims and provide them assistance.

Appeal for help

?We need all the help that we can get,? said Iloilo Mayor Jerry Treas in a phone interview from Morocco where he is on an official trip. He appealed for donations of ready-to-eat food, potable water and dry clothes.

The mayor said he was cutting short his trip to be able to return immediately to the city.

The City Schools Division of the Department of Education Sunday declared the suspension of classes for at least three days because the schools were being used as evacuation centers. Many students were also among the victims.

Frank?s heavy rains and strong winds battered communities, sweeping houses and toppling trees and electric posts, including transmission lines of the power plant in Dingle town, 42 kilometers north of here.

Water rose so high that officials had to open valves of Dingle?s Moroboro Dam, which supplies irrigation water, to prevent it from overflowing.

Many roads were impassable because of fallen trees and landslides.

Trees and rooftops

Tens of thousands of residents climbed trees and rooftops after waking up on Saturday to floodwaters already inside their homes. While flooding subsided in some areas Sunday, many towns reported continued flooding.

Electricity remained cut off in most parts of Iloilo and Negros Occidental, and in the whole of Capiz, Aklan and Antique. Power restoration could take at least a week in many areas, said Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada during a meeting of the PDCC.

Thousands of people were evacuated to gymnasiums in schools from all of Capiz?s 16 municipalities and Roxas City, Gov. Victor Tanco said in a phone interview.

Communication lines were cut off in Capiz and Aklan. Tanco said the typhoon knocked down cell sites, hampering submission of reports and rescue operations.

Most roads were impassable in Capiz, said PDCC action officer Arnold Talabucon.

In Iloilo City, most of the 180 villages were flooded. Trees and giant billboards fell, and cars and other vehicles were swept by rampaging waters, even on major streets. Houses were blown or carried away by winds or floods.

Frantic calls for help swamped rescue and relief agencies and radio stations since Saturday as many residents all over the province and city climbed to rooftops or the second story of their houses when floodwaters reached five feet deep.

Many of the victims, who had been on rooftops since dawn, appealed for rescuers to fetch them with boats.

River confluence

The city and some areas of the neighboring town of Pavia traditionally experience flooding during storms and continuous rains because of their location at the confluence of the Tigum and Aganan rivers, the main tributaries in Iloilo.

But officials were stunned and overwhelmed by the magnitude and extent of the calamity. They were at a loss to explain why areas, which have never experienced flooding before, were submerged in pools of water overnight.

?This is a very sad day for Iloilo. We have never experienced flooding like this before,? said Gov. Niel Tupas Sr. during a meeting Sunday of the PDCC.

According to PDCC?s Bionat, hardest hit were the northern and central towns of Iloilo, including Barotac Viejo, Sara, Maasin, Cabatuan, Pavia and Sta. Barbara.

Rescue personnel and equipment were not enough to reach the number of those needing evacuation.

A family of eight in Barangay Napnapan in Tigbauan town, 24 km north of the city, was swept by waters on Saturday. Their bodies were recovered Sunday, said Mayor James Excel Torres.

Flooded hospital

In Janiuay town, 34 km northwest, patients and staff members of the Janiuay District Hospital swam through the ceiling to escape the waters that rapidly entered the hospital.

One of the 29 patients, Patrocino Defensor, 92, died from heart attack. She was dependent on an oxygen machine that was also destroyed in the flood.

Patients in two other district hospitals were transferred to neighboring hospitals after the flood seriously damaged or destroyed hospital equipment, said Dr. Judy Ann Trompeta-Dumayas, chief of the provincial hospital management service.

?We are overwhelmed. Almost all of our barangays (villages) are under water. We have never experienced this extent of flooding and it pains us to think that we cannot reach and help the victims,? said Mayor Arcadio Gorriceta of Pavia.

Not trained

Sta. Barbara Mayor Isabelo Maquino said that in previous storms, waters reached only ankle-high even if the province was placed under Storm Signal No. 3. ?Our people were not trained to handle this kind of calamity,? he said.

Maquino said residents were caught by surprise by how fast the water rose and because it came from in land. ?We were monitoring the rise of our rivers and we did not expect that the water will come from the mountains.?

Local government units and agencies did not have enough equipment and personnel to handle distress calls and were not prepared to handle the situation.

In the capital town of San Jose in Antique, 70 families remained trapped as of Sunday in Barangay Dorog, said Zoilo Tubianosa, provincial administrator and acting governor.

Destruction in Boracay

Frank also brought destruction to Boracay Island, the country?s top tourist destination. Boats and billboards were ruined, said resort owner Nenette Graf.

Strong winds and waves rammed the seawall of resorts along the Bolabog Beach at the opposite side of the main white beach.

Air Force helicopters were sent on search and rescue missions, including delivering relief goods to victims in areas not accessible from town centers.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has directed all naval and air assets ready for rescue and relief operations in Western Visayas, according to her regional assistant Raul Banias.

Banias appealed for help from other provinces and international relief and rehabilitation agencies.

Damaged roads and bridges were estimated to reach P500 million, according to the PDCC. Crops worth hundreds of millions of pesos were destroyed by flooding in as much as 70 percent of the farming areas.

Board Member Jett Rojas said the calamity was a ?wake-up call? for all, especially officials and agencies. He blamed continued deforestation as the cause of flooding.

Rojas said a portion of the calamity fund should be allocated for reforestation projects and to develop disaster preparedness of local government units. With a report from Felipe Celino, Inquirer Visayas



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