Flood-hit Cagayan cries for help

Published November 14, 2020, 4:33 PM

by Manila Bulletin

All towns inundated, disaster official says; more floating assets needed

By Joseph Pedrajas, Noreen Jazul, and Martin Sadongdong

#CagayanNeedsHelp started to trend on Twitter Friday night as residents of Cagayan started to scream for help after the entire province was slowly being submerged in flood.

(Cagayan Provincial Information Office/ MANILA BULLETIN)

Sporadic screams of, “tulong! tulong! (help! help)” and “rescue, rescue!” were heard as residents already on their rooftops begged for help amid the rising flood.

The situation worsened early Saturday morning when parts of Cagayan went pitch-black due to power outage.

The massive flooding came after Magat Dam, one of the largest dams in the Philippines, opened all seven of its gates last Thursday to release water before reaching its spilling level, which was triggered by Typhoon “Ulysses” and the previous typhoons.

As of Saturday, only two gates are open.

The situation in Cagayan started with Typhoon “Nika,” then Typhoon “Pepito,” and Super-typhoon “Rolly,” said Ronald Villa, operations chief of the Office of Civil Defense in Cagayan Valley (OCD-2). Then came Ulysses, and it worsened with the release of water from Magat Dam.

Protocols followed

“Talagang catch basin po kami, buong region. Since valley po itong Cagayan, lahat po ng tubig galing sa Cordillera, Caraballo, ganoon din po sa Sierra Madre mountain ranges bumababa po dito sa amin (Our whole region is really a catch basin. And since Cagayan province is a valley, all the waters coming from the mountains of Cordillera, Caraballo, and Sierra Madre would go down to us),” Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba acknowledged in an interview over TeleRadyo, explaining the flooding.

“There’s nothing else the government could have done to stop it,” said Wilfredo Gloria, NIA’s Department Manager for Magat River Irrigation
System (MARIIS) Dam and Reservoir.

Gloria said NIA followed all the protocols in terms of dam discharge, including a flood warning even days prior to the landfall of Ulysses.

Cries for help

Photos, videos, and narratives of affected individuals being posted online highlighted the despair of the residents, with some asking for prayers as they doubted if they would still stay alive. Some said, their neighbors were already missing.

“Salamat sa pagdadasal sa amin. Hindi namin alam kung bangkay na nila kaming dadatnan (Thanks for praying for us. We don’t know, maybe we’re already dead when rescuers see us),” one resident told her friend in their message exchange posted on social media.

“Nakakatindig balahibo marinig ang sigaw ng aming kabarangay. Gumagamit na po ng mic para po mapansin at ma-rescue!!! Kailangan po namin ng rescue dito sa [Barangay] Linao [East] (It’s a hair-raising experience to hear the screams of my neighbors. They’re already using microphone to catch attention. We need to be rescued here in Barangay Linao East),” resident Mark Angelo Quilang stated in a Facebook video post, where residents were heard yelling for help.

“Girl! Tulungan mo ako! Nalulunod na mga magulang ko at hindi ko alam kung nasaan na sila. Kalahati na lang ng bubong yung natira. Wala din akong flashlight kasi pa-lowbat na ako. Pataas na nang pataas yung tubig! (Friend, please help us! My parents are already drowning and I don’t know where they are. Half of our roof is already submerged and I don’t have a flashlight as my phone’s battery is already draining. The flood is rising),” another one told her friend.

Social media sites once again became emergency helplines. Rescue teams were reportedly deployed following public outcries but their operations were postponed until dawn due to low visibility.

Likened to Pacific Ocean

“Parang Pacific Ocean (It looks like the Pacific Ocean).”

This was how a disaster management official described Cagayan province after it was submerged in massive floodwaters Friday due to Typhoon “Ulysses.”

Macalan said all municipalities in the province had been inundated.

The water level in Cagayan’s Buntun Bridge has also reached 13 meters, according to Macalan.

“Kakaiba ang nangyari [ngayon] sa mga nakaraang taon (What happened now is unlike the past years),” Macalan said.

As of Friday, a total of 13, 208 families, or 47,081 individuals have already been affected by the flooding in the province.

As for the total number of persons that need rescuing, Macalan said they still can’t ascertain the exact figures.

In the town of Enrile, however, about 25,000 individuals need to be rescued.

Macalan said the province has already mobilized all its resources for rescue operations but still needs more assistance.

Floating assets needed

Villa said their search and rescue (SAR) teams have been working round the clock to respond to requests for rescue from individuals who were trapped from their homes due to the continuous rise of floodwater.

“Isa sa mga priority namin ay floating assets kasi gamit na gamit na rin ‘yung different floating assets natin sa mga local government units. Karamihan ng local government units namin affected dahil ang weather disturbance namin hindi lang naman nagsimula kay Ulysses, tuluy-tuloy na ito since typhoon Nika tapos Pepito at super typhoon Rolly (One of our priorities is floating assets as the different floating assets of local government units are already in use. Most local government units are affected as the weather disturbance is not all about Ulyssess, it started with Typhoon Nika, then Pepito, and Super-typhoon Rolly),” Villa told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.

“Massive flooding po, particularly in Tuguegarao na malaki po ang epekto ng baha. Sa Isabela po ay may response operations din po (It’s massive flooding, particularly in Tuguegarao. In Isabela, response operation is ongoing),” Villa said.

Typhoon “Ulysses” brought the “worst flooding” in Tuguegarao City in years, Mayor Jefferson Soriano told DZMM in an interview Friday.

“First time po ito nangyari sa amin. The last time we had this is in 1972 pa po. Ngayon po ang pinaka malaking flooding sa amin sa siyudad since 1972 (This is the first time this happened. The last time we had this [kind of flooding] is in 1972. What we are experiencing now is the worst flooding in the city since 1972),” Soriano said as he appealed for more floating assets.

Gov. Mamba said that as of Saturday morning, nine were already reported dead in the province. Four of them were killed in a landslide, two drowned while three were electrocuted.

Vice President Leni Robredo has already coordinated with various teams of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to help trapped residents in Cagayan.

The situation in Cagayan kept Robredo up until the wee hours of Saturday to monitor the rescue operations.

In a Twitter post, Robredo said she had been assured Marine rescue teams were on the way to respond to those in need of evacuation from the affected areas.

“Asking if possible to deploy air assets now. Waiting for feedback. Was assured Marine Rescue Teams are on their way,” she said.

“AFP pursuing all means possible to conduct rescue operations,” Robredo assured after reading posts of people asking to be rescued in the province.

“Our prayers for Cagayan and Isabela. Reading posts now of people asking to be rescued. We deployed our security team to coordinate with AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) all the calls for rescue we are reading now. Will be monitoring and will post updates,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said it will send rubber boats to Tuguegarao City in Cagayan for the much-needed help in rescue operations.

“Coast Guard personnel are now working to load and transport rubber boats to Tuguegarao,” Admiral George Ursabia, Coast Guard commandant, said Saturday dawn.

“We will also haul Jet A1 from Manila to Tuguegarao to send stocks,” Ursabia added.

Flooding may persist

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), meanwhile said Magat Dam’s water level remains near the 193-meter spilling level at 192.18 meters as of 9 a.m. Saturday but it is slightly lower than the 192.70 meters Friday morning.

PAGASA has issued Flood Bulletin No. 12 for the Cagayan River basin due to the continuous threat of flooding in many areas in Isabela and Cagayan.

The Tumauini Station (Tumauini, Isabela) in the middle Cagayan River and Buntun Station (Tuguegarao, Cagayan) in the lower Cagayan River have monitored “slow recession on water level” but remain “above critical.”

PAGASA said widespread flooding may persist.

Those in Tumauini, Delfin Albano, Sto. Tomas, Cabagan, Sta. Maria, and San Pablo in Isabela and Peñablanca, Tuguegarao City, Enrile, Solana, Iguig, Amulung, Alcala, Baggao, Lasam, Gattaran, Lallo, Camalaniugan, and Aparri in Cagayan were asked to remain vigilant.

Upper Cagayan River’s monitoring stations in Pangal (Echague, Isabela), and Maris (Ramon, Isabela), as well as middle Cagayan River’s monitoring station in Gamu (Gamu, Isabela) have recorded “continuous recession on water level” but remains “above alarm” as flooding still persists.

Residents living in the low-lying areas of San Agustin, Jones, Echague, Alicia, Angadanan, Cauayan City, Naguilian, Reina Mercedes, San Mateo, Cabatuan, Aurora, Luna, Gamu, Ilagan City, and San Mariano in Isabela were asked to take precautionary measures. Ninoy Aquino Bridge Station (Tuao, Cagayan) in the lower Cagayan River also monitored slow recession on water level but still above alarm, which means flooding still persists.

Low-lying communities in Tuao, Piat, and Sto. Niño were also advised to take necessary actions. (With reports from Ellalyn de Vera-Ruiz, Raymund F. Antonio, Betheena Unite, and Madelaine B. Miraflor)