Surging rainwater coming from higher ground and mudslides–these are what doomed Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City last month. These two neighbors sit in the lowlands between the mountains and the sea. When tropical cyclone Sendong (international name: Washi) passed through Mindanao, these cities were its biggest casualties.
The cause–clear in hindsight–is the eroded land that can no longer safely retain the volume and weight of torrential downpours.
Here’s a post I wrote about the ferocity of torrential downpours.
The trees in the mountains that overlook these two cities were harvested. Without trees to serve as pillars for the mountain, vast amounts of soil were washed out. Where mountain soil may have been 30 centimeters (12 inches), after the trees were cut, water and wind erosion may have reduced that soil to less than five centimeters (2 inches) thick. Everything else was washed or blown away. Erosion is the primary reason for the tremendous decrease in retention (water-holding) capacity.
It took decades before the consequences of excessive deforestation were felt. And what consequences they were!
When were the forests of Mindanao harvested, in the 1970s, 1980s?
When disaster struck, it happened with frightening speed, as the volume of water that was dumped on the mountains by typhoon Sendong surged and swept down the land and into the sea.
by Jojo Malig, abs-cbnNEWS.com
Posted at 12/20/2011 12:52 AM | Updated as of 12/20/2011 10:10 AM
Deaths reach 957, hundreds still missing
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Tropical storm “Sendong” (international name Washi) is the world’s deadliest storm this year, latest data shows.
The storm, which struck Northern Mindanao, the Visayas, and Palawan over the weekend, has now killed at least 957 people, the country’s disaster management chief said Tuesday morning.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Director Benito Ramos also said they have lost count of the number of people who have gone missing following the flashfloods spawned by the storm.
[For comparison] American meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters, citing data from insurance broker AON Benfield, said 902 people died during a storm in Brazil in January. Meanwhile, 657 people died during the massive floods in Thailand from June to November.
Masters, who explained how the tragedy happened, said Sendong carried an unusual amount of rainwater, which came from a large stream of tropical moisture over the Pacific Ocean.
“Aiding the heavy rains were sea surface temperatures that were nearly 1 degree Celsius above average off the east coast of Mindanao, one of the top five warmest values on record,” he said in a Weather Underground report.
A US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) report December 15, a day before the storm struck, said Sendong was carrying as much as 50 millimeters of rainwater, which is almost the same amount that storm Ondoy was bringing in 2009.
“Washi hit a portion of the Philippines that does not see tropical storms and typhoons very often. Mindanao is thus hit only about once every twelve years by a significant tropical storm or typhoon,” Masters added.
[And similarly for Palawan. Most typhoons (or tropical storms or tropical cyclones, which I’m all using as synonyms) skirt the eastern boundary of the Philippines before cutting across northern Luzon. Because Palawan is the western boundary, most typhoons miss it. I asked a long-time resident who lives in Quezon, Palawan, dentist Doctor Grace Regalado of her memories about severe typhoons and she could only remember one–in the 1990s. Anyway, back to the article.]
“Since the rains fell on regions where the natural forest had been illegally logged or converted to pineapple plantations, the heavy rains were able to run off quickly on the relatively barren soils and create devastating flash floods. Since the storm hit in the middle of the night, and affected an unprepared population that had no flood warning system in place, the death toll was tragically high,” he said.
Ondoy–mentioned in the paragraph above right before the image of Sendong’s tracks–flooded MetroManila three years ago.
By RIO ROSE RIBAYA
September 27, 2009, 11:45am
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services, Administration (PAGASA) said Saturday that the unexpected flood in Metro Manila was the worst one ever recorded in (Philippine) history. While Dr. Nathaniel Cruz, PAGASA director, said that yesterday’s flood was the worst in history, he added that the amount of rainfall dumped yesterday is expected to surpass the 1967 record and this month’s average.
The most striking thing I recall from stories told by survivors was how surprised they all were at how rapidly the floodwaters rose.
The evening after people realized how catastrophic the devastation was, I accompanied my sister who donated bags to the relief effort. We went to Ateneo University along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City simply because it was the most convenient place for her to go.
Filipinos today seem to be more aware of the importance of the environment. Hopefully, this awareness will expand and take root among rural Filipinos.
I live in Puerto Princesa (which is a city) but I still consider myself a rural Filipino.
Last month’s twin disasters occurred in the “country,” which is the province in the case of the Philippines.
In the Philippines, political power and money are concentrated in Manila. Local governments are usually weak and their efforts often need to be supported by the local congressmen and congresswomen. That’s official power but there’s another kind.
People have their own kind of political power and in the case of the Filipino, the term “People Power” is so apt. It came about because Filipinos used it to topple, first, a dictator, and then, a corrupt and ineffective president.
The people who make up the majority of Palawenos (resident of Palawan) are aware of the importance of their environment. That much is obvious and a relief to me. However, I anticipate they will need to be prodded in order to convert that awareness into action.
Is that the way it will be? Time will tell.