Long-staying typhoon leaves trail of ruin

by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 09 2009 10:09 PM | Updated as of Oct 12 2009 06:32 AM

Photo by Patricia Evangelista.

MANILA - It was the quick thinking of Elvira Fernandez’s son, Roel, that saved a few of the family’s prized possessions—television, radio, and DVD player.

On Friday morning, when floodwaters were only thigh-deep inside their nipa hut along the Pantal river in Dagupan City, he put the appliances in a laundry basin and swam away to higher ground.

Elvira had left their home on Friday to keep her younger children safe in a neighbor’s home about 2 kilometers away.

She swam back Friday afternoon to save more of their properties, but it was already too late.

“Hindi na ako makatuloy. Bubong na lang nakita ko. Lahat ng gamit namin wala na. Kahit damit, wala kami naisalba (The flood waters kept me from proceeding. Only the houses' roofs were visible by then. We lost all our things, including our clothes),” Elvira told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

Pantal river is an outlet of Agno River, the largest and longest river in Luzon island and where the San Roque Dam is built.

PAGASA Administrator Prisco Nilo told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda that as of 3 a.m., the dam has been releasing 5,361 cubic meters per second (cms) of water.

“Kagabi kasi, magdamag na ulan. Kung wala lang sanang ulan. Tatlo kaming pamilya doon sa ilog. Ewan ko nga nasan na yung iba (It had been raining all through the night. We were 3 families living near the river. I don't know where the others are),” she added.

Towards the evening, floodwaters at the Siapno residence—where the Fernandezes took shelter—also reached knee-high.

But Susan Siapno fears it will go higher as the nearby San Roque Dam continues to release water.

Three times

Tropical Depression Pepeng as it hovers over Northern Luzon. Photo from Pagasa.

That Northern Luzon is used to typhoons is an understatement. Most, if not all, of the 20 typhoons that annually lashes the Philippines exit through northern Luzon.

But past experiences did not prepare them for typhoon "Pepeng" (international code name: Parma).

“Nagustuhan masyado ni Pepeng ang Pilipinas. Tatlong beses bumalik. Araw-araw malakas ang ulan. May dala pang hangin ("Pepeng" really liked the Philippines. It came back three times, brining rains and wind),” said Susan.

Located within the typhoon belt, typhoon signal no. 1 is generally ignored in the region. Flying roofs, falling trees, overflowing rivers, flooded streets, and sudden landslides are yearly tragedies.

Occasional stories of farmers struck by lightning do not come as a shock anymore. The Fernandezes themselves are used to knee-high floods everytime there is a typhoon.

“Wala naman kami magagawa. Wala naman kaming ibang matitirhan,” Elvira said.

But typhoons normally move fast. The eye and the tail usually pass through one province to another in span of a few hours.

Scattered rains would linger for 3 days at most. Pepeng’s 3 landfalls meant 3 times the disaster: Cagayan on October 3, Ilocos Norte on October 7, and Ilocos Sur on October 8.

The Fujiwara effect was previously unknown to the residents. The presence of a stronger typhoon (Quedan) in the country pulled back "Pepeng" to stay in its place instead of moving to Hong Kong.

Moving like the weights of a dumbbell, Quedan moved up to devastate Japan, while Pepeng stayed to make 3 landfalls in Ilocos.

As of Friday, the region remains under Typhoon Signal No. 1 although Pepeng is expected to finally move towards the South China Sea, according to the weather bureau.

One province at a time

An old woman from Laguna cries as she recounts her ordeal during floods brought by storm Pepeng.

One by one, typhoon "Pepeng" harrowed northern Luzon provinces. On its first landfall on Saturday, Pepeng’s strong winds felled trees and blew roofs away in Cagayan and Isabela provinces.

As of Monday, over 70,000 residents have been affected by Pepeng, particularly in Ilocos Norte where it was supposed to exit.

“Sunday was bad. It was the worst of the worst. The streets were so bad. I even live in the capital. I feel sorry for the others,” said May Ilox of Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

Ilox was on her way to teach at her church’s Sunday school when Pepeng pummeled Ilocos Norte on Sunday.

She said they had to immediately send home the children because trees were already falling on the streets.

Even the barricades built to protect Ilox’s residence from floods proved inutile to Pepeng, she said.

Many low-lying areas in the province were submerged in floods. Laoag City Mayor Michael Fariñas said rubber boats is the city’s most urgent need.

“We can only provide relief and rescue with the aid of rubber boats,” he said. Over 6,000 families have been affected in the province, Fariñas added.

According to Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., damage to agriculture and fisheries have reached P150 million in the province alone.

Ilox blames climate change. “We are always hit by typhoons, but not to this extent. Rains came on and off. It never ceased. Flooding is worse. I haven’t seen the sun since Saturday,” Ilox said. Report by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.