Monday, September 28, 2009

Sinisingil tayo ng Kalikasan (Nature is demanding payback)

Ironically, I was in the Philippine Coast Guard typhoon response and rescue exhibit in Manila when TS Ondoy's deluge hit Metro Manila. I was following the storm on real time satellite apps on my mobile phone and was shocked to see that the storm's core was compact and consolidated. This meant a deluge will come. Checking on the PAGASA forecast, I saw that the forecast still said "gusty winds"

I have seen and experienced these kinds of storms in northern Australia. During my first year there as a PhD student in 1997, a tropical low dumped a year's worth of rain in 6 hours. The university got washed out. Cars in the student parking lot were piled on top of another as the flash flood rushed from the eucalyptus covered hills. There were no casualties. Six hours before, people were advised to seek higher ground. Those in buildings were advised to seek the higher floors and stay put. Some friends were trapped in the library building and did not go hungry since even the library had emergency rations!

Australia is prone to such disasters since the dry soils cannot absorb that much water in a short time. Water flows down the hills into the gullies. Australians especially those in the regions are aware of how bad a natural disaster could be. The Aussie Bureau of Meteorology comes out with this boing boing boing alert on TV (30 minute intervals) and the radio about cyclones.

My life in Oz primed me to be disaster alert for both of the main dangers of the dry (bushfires) and the wet (floods and landslides). This is one priceless benefit that an Australian education gave me.

So when I saw the satellite pic on my phone, I advised people that coming back to Quezon City will be hazardous but we have to try since being in Manila will be more dicey. We were on the road when the deluge hit at 9:30 AM. I noticed that street floods rose with an horrible rapidity. On Santa Mesa, we saw the water rise one meter in a few minutes and this was a portent of the dangers to come. We were able to traverse the deep water but when we got to the San Juan City-Quezon City boundary at 10:30, we were amazed to see that Aurora Blvd can give Cagayan de Oro a run for its tourist money! The whole street was like a white water rafting paradise!

All that white water was rushing towards the San Juan area in Ermitano. The water reached up to the edge of the huge Mt Carmel Church (which is built on top of a knoll).

We succeeded to pass through the little that remained unflooded in New Manila. Upon reaching the Roxas and Kamuning districts, it was just to dangerous and I told the driver to seek the highest ground. The highest one was a Catholic charismatic church. The priest had opened the church to stranded people. And we were the first to be there. And 30 minutes later, the flood of Metro Manila's environmental refugees came in.

Many of them came from areas in the city that never has been flooded at all. Whereas before many were from the lower socio-economic classes, many were middle class and one family 2nd floor condo unit sank in 8 feet of water while they were away.

With two UERMMC 3rd year medical students checking for vital signs among the refugees, we organized a sort of triage until two doctors came. I was concerned about the senior citizens caught by the flood and the small children and babies who had to evacuate without their baby bottles.

We were there for 8 hours since parts of Quezon City leading to Diliman were under 3 meters of water. Friends couldn't believe that while our car "survived" Santa Mesa, it could not survive Kamuning! This was simply unbelievable!

Anyway, one of the women from a lower socio economic background broke down and saying "sinisingil na tayo ng kalikasan" (Nature is demanding payback!). Nobody in the church blamed God or the Devil for this disaster but us. Nobody thought the disaster is a punishment from God.

The woman and her family listed the environmental determinants. 1) Garbage, 2) Too many people in the city, 3) Corruption and 4) Climate change

An upper middle class refugee said that PAGASA failed in its forecasting but I told them that given PAGASA's lack of equipment and funding, it can only forecast the best it could. It can never forecast as well as the Australians could. The Doppler radars that could have advised many on the amount of rain that would fall (worth one case of bottled water per square meter) weren't yet installed and operational.

Many were in disbelief that this kind of disaster could befall Manila.

We all are now environmental refugees.

The wages of sin on the environment is death!

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary


Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

This was a nice read, Ben, about a pretty horrific experience. I wish I had one as good to share. We did get flooded, but I haven't the strength to relay the tale, certainly not with any relish!

BTW your theme today recalls this speech once given by MICHAEL CRICHTON:
Environmentalism As Religion

Jesusa Bernardo said...

I agree with DJB that this is a very nice read. Most informative too.

That woman's family was so perceptive and keen, given their lower SES.

There's another angle of the Ondoy-caused flood to consider, though--the dam release/spill.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

I've been wondering about that dam release too Jesusa. Seems like they could'a done it a few days before the storm hit, instead of on top of the flash floods. I think this angle is gonna get looked at more.

Jesusa Bernardo said...

Thing is, DJB, I think they're trying to suppress that angle. My husband saw on a TV interview of one of the victims, which was cut short at the point when s/he was castigating the gov't. for questionable dam release timing/lack of warning.

The impact of the dam on the flash floods is really one of the first things that should come to mind but why can we hardly find that angle discussed in the mainstream media?

I actually suspect the authorities were so unprepared and unable to coordinate that they were forced to release dam water in one big spill rather than in increments, as they claim. Explaining why the people were not notified, took them by surprise, and sorry na lang those who perished. Hope I'm wrong.