WHEN rain water is released by the clouds and drops on earth, it either lands on our heads, roofs, backyards, neighboring communities or on mountains and slopes. We learned about the water cycle in school that it starts from the sea as a vapor which then rises to the clouds. Winds would then move the clouds and pours rain to the surface below. We also learned about the importance of the aquifers and the water table below our feet which we pump into our washroom and kitchen sinks. In Baguio City for instance, its central business district is heavily built up by man-made structures that prevents rain water to be absorbed by the soil. Rain drops on roofs then to the gutters, pipes and drainage canals that ultimately lead to creeks and rivers. When there is continuous rain, expect the drainage pipes and canals of Baguio to produce heavy water run-off in the outlying canals and rivers. Massive flow of rain water can result to a flash flood in lower areas and this can mean great danger to people living downstream.

When flash floods occur, there is a big chance that the community living below will be greatly affected especially when they are not aware that there’s a heavy downpour at the headwaters. Flash flooding usually occurs when precipitation falls rapidly on saturated soil, dry soil that has poor absorption ability or elevated spaces that are thoroughly paved and built up such as Baguio City. When massive water runoff finds its way to the creeks and bigger canals, soil erosion and mud flow may happen and this can cause river banks to swell and submerge low lying communities below.

In September of 2008, Typhoon Nina hit Northern Luzon and about 28,566 families were displaced in the Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Southern Tagalog and the Cordillera. The National Disaster Coordinating Council recorded 52 cases of landslides, erosion or mud flow, 17 eroded ripraps, colverts and stairways, 19 fallen trees, 19 incidents of flooding, one case of trash slide and two cases of washed out drainage pipelines. The typhoon Peping of 2009 that practically wiped Little Kibungan of La Trinidad, flooded the City Camp Lagoon and imperiled families living in Cresencia Village of Baguio are recent disaster cases that really made me consider what environmentalists are espousing on climate change.

Recently, I went driving, walking and taking pictures around the Balili River and its headwaters in Baguio City. I drove up the place known locally as Carabao Mountain and walked to the opposite hill crossing the river along Kilometer 3. I settled midday at the Balili River Barangay within the Benguet State University compound where an old bridge is being replaced. I interviewed Punong Barangay Ramon Tomin about how the river was before and he recalled how the river was clean and quiet unlike nowadays when the whole community must be alerted every time there’s a strong typhoon. The Punong Barangay also narrated two separate drowning incidents involving children caught in a flash flood.

I also recalled how Ballong, the son of a former colleague and a child friend were playing along a river bank near the San Jose school back in the mid 90s when the children were presumably carried away by the rushing waters down the river. Rescuers from Baguio and the La Trinidad community teamed up for the search of Ballong.

In what could have been a wrong instinctive move during the search and rescue, Nathan, also a colleague looked for anything that he could grab to secure himself at the mid portion of the bridge near the Narvaez clinic to scour and rescue a drowning boy. I shook my head upon learning that what he got was the office’s electric extension cord which could have snapped carrying a person’s weight. To date, no trace of Ballong’s body was ever found but he lives in our memory as a folk hero for saving the life of his playmate. Two of them would have drowned if he did not secure and let the other kid grab something like an extended bush or a stone wedge at the river wall for safety.