TWO men were confirmed dead and a teenager was reported missing after torrential rain caused massive flooding on Tuesday evening, Oct. 13, 2020, in at least 20 barangays in Cebu City, affecting even areas that are usually not inundated.
In neighboring Mandaue City, 163 families had to be evacuated from their homes near the Butuanon River, which swelled and almost overflowed. Portions of six barangays were flooded by up to five feet of water.
Al Quiblat, chief of the weather bureau’s Mactan Station, said 81 millimeters (mm) of rainfall were dumped on Cebu City Tuesday evening based on the data recorded by the automatic rain gauge of the Department of Science and Technology in Brgy. Lahug, Cebu City, although their radar recorded only three mm.
The 81-mm rainfall was equivalent to 405,000 barrels or drums of rain per square kilometer, more than double the 170,000 barrels of rain recorded on Sept. 16, 2020, when a dozen barangays in Cebu and Mandaue cities were also flooded or hit by landslides.
Quiblat said the heavy downpour was an indirect effect of Tropical Depression Ofel, which along with the southwest monsoon (habagat), created thunderstorm clouds on Tuesday.
Ramil Ayuman, Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO) officer-in-charge, identified the fatalities in Cebu City as Labiano Detuya, 85, and Leonardo Otto, 49.
Ayuman said Detuya may have slipped while trying to go down to the ground floor of his two-story house in Sitio Creekside, Brgy. Lorega San Miguel.
Otto, a resident of Brgy. Busay, was reportedly drunk when he tried to cross the spillway at the boundary of Busay and Lahug, according to Ayuman. He was swept away by the flood.
Ayuman also said the CDRRMO has formed a search and retrieval team to look for a street dweller, 16, who was last seen at a bridge along Gen. Echavez St.
Some 20 barangays, or a fourth of Cebu City’s 80 barangays, were affected by flooding Tuesday night. Ayuman said the number could still go up as damage assessment was still ongoing as of Wednesday evening.
Among those affected were Kamputhaw, Apas, Pulangbato, Talamban, Zapatera, Lahug, Lorega, Malubog and Bonbon.
Even areas that are not susceptible to flooding were inundated, such as the portion of Gen. Maxilom (Mango) Ave. near the junction with Gen. Echavez St.
“The flooding last night was unprecedented. For many years, only low-lying areas were affected, but last night, we did not expect Mango Ave. to be flooded,” said Cebu City Councilor Jerry Guardo, chairman of the infrastructure committee.
Guardo said water from the Tejero Creek may have backflowed, causing the flooding on Maxilom Ave. He also cited the creek at the back of St. Theresa’s College (STC), which narrowed after a building was constructed alongside it.
He added that the heavy rain coincided with high tide, thus, worsening the flooding.
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, for his part, noted the huge volume of garbage that clogged the watercourses.
“That was the first time that we have that magnitude and one of the things we found out when we went around was the volume of garbage. There was a lot of garbage,” said Labella.
Department of Public Services (DPS) personnel were dispatched to clear the affected areas.
In Mandaue City, the affected areas were Barangays Canduman, Casuntingan, Tingub, Tabok, Paknaan and Umapad, according to Felix Suico, operations head of the Mandaue City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MCDRRMO).
He said no casualties were reported in Mandaue City. The 163 displaced families are temporarily staying in elementary schools near their homes.
As of Wednesday morning, Oct. 14, some areas like the 6.5-hectare relocation site in Brgy. Paknaan were still flooded.
“It was a really heavy rain because the Butuanon River almost overflowed. In Sitio Laray in Brgy. Umapad, the floodwaters reached my neck and to think, I’m five feet and seven inches tall,” Suico said.
Quiblat, Mactan Station chief of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), said the heavy downpour lasted for an hour and a half, from around 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, and was concentrated in Cebu City.
Torrential rain dumps rainfall of more than 35 mm in an hour in a certain area.
About an hour before it occurred, at 5 p.m., Quiblat said they issued a thunderstorm warning.
Quiblat said more rainy days are expected because of the La Niña phenomenon on top of the wet season.
Pagasa announced on Oct. 2 the onset of the La Niña phenomenon, a weather pattern that causes increased rainfall.
“La Niña causes more thunderstorms. There will be more and stronger storms,” Quiblat said.
Guardo said the rivers in the city need to be dredged and widened to mitigate flooding in Cebu City.
To ensure that the river improvement projects undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways Central Visayas (DPWH 7) are not hampered, Guardo said there is a need to implement the three-meter easement rule.
The DPWH 7 has an ongoing river improvement project covering watercourses in six barangays in the city, such as Tejero Creek. The project has been delayed due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and the presence of at least 700 families living along the riverbank.
Although there was positive feedback from the residents on their relocation, Labella said this is a challenge because construction of medium-rise buildings (MRB) to house displaced settlers in the city has been hampered due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The City has built only three MRBs since 2019.
Guardo said he will meet with the Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor, local housing committee, and City Engineering Office to discuss the matter.
In Mandaue City, Mayor Jonas Cortes said he will hold an emergency meeting with the chief executives of the barangays that border the Butuanon River and Mahiga Creek to assess the situation. He will meet separately with DPWH 7 officials.
The City is undertaking flood control projects in Butuanon and Mahiga, such as riprapping and slope protection, dredging and desilting. An outfall and diversion project is awaiting implementation in Butuanon.
“We cannot make it without the cooperation of the barangays. In fact, we are conducting declogging activities, but we cannot really cover it all. We should have done this by summer and not now when it is already rainy season, but also due to the pandemic, our decloging and dredging activities are currently pending,” he said.
Cortes said he will also recommend to the DPWH 7 a dredging project at the mouth of the Butuanon River and the construction of gabion dams.
Meanwhile, DPWH 7 Regional Director Edgar Tabacon said they will review the underpass project along the United Nations (UN) Ave. to check Suico’s claim that the drainage and line canals are affected.
“I think I have to review also, because before the project should have been approved and implemented, there should have been an environmental assessment and these circumstances could have been addressed,” he added.
Tabacon also said he will discuss a similar flooding problem in the underpass in Barangay Mambaling, Cebu City.
Tabacon said construction of these projects started before he was assigned in the region. (JJL / WBS)