PAGASA: We’re ready for another ‘Ondoy’

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2010 05:14 PM | Updated as of Sep 27 2010 07:23 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Government scientists believe that they are now ready to predict the impact of a tropical storm similar to Ondoy that struck exactly a year ago.

New technology and equipment have been acquired by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), according to the bureau’s senior weather forecaster Robert Sawi.

He said PAGASA has 3 Doppler radars operating in the country and 2 more will go online in Subic Bay and Tagaytay later this year.

Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Mario Montejo earlier said PAGASA will soon be able to issue hourly weather updates and release bulletins every 10 minutes. 

“More frequent updates mean a more effective forecasting system,” he explained.

The agency will also use layman’s language in weather bulletins instead of technical jargon to allow the public to better understand the reports.

PAGASA Deputy Administrator Nathaniel Servando also said the agency now has 59 synoptic stations, 43 automated weather stations, and 5 meteorological facilities nationwide.

Ondoy unleashed a month's worth of rain in six hours on September 26, 2009, killing 464 and displacing tens of thousands.

Marikina City, which was among the areas in Metro Manila that were struck by massive floods, is also relying on technology to prepare for typhoons.

Floodwaters there reached 23 meters high during Ondoy’s onslaught.

Solar-powered closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras have been installed on major bridges in Marikina City, according to Councilor Xyza Diazen, head of the local disaster-preparedness committee.

The CCTV cameras serve as early-warning devices that monitor the water level in the Marikina River. 

Alarm systems that have been installed on the city’s bridges will now go off when rivers’ water level reaches 15 meters.

An evacuation advisory is issued when the rivers’ waters reach 17 meters, Diazen said.

Remembering the dead

Government officials, meanwhile, urged the public on Sunday to stay alert to the dangers of natural disasters as Metro Manila remembered the 464 people killed in the worst floods to hit the capital in a generation.

At an open-air Roman Catholic mass on Sunday, Enrique Estanislao joined several hundred survivors on the bank of the Marikina River, which overflowed during the storm, destroying his family's restaurant and killing some of his friends.

"It's possible we would suffer more floods in my lifetime, though I hope not as bad as last year," the 51 year-old said as he heard mass along with neighbors.

The floods, along with landslides that struck the country's north a week later as typhoon Pepeng swept in, left more than 1,000 people dead and affected 9.3 million people, or 10 percent of the Philippine population.

The World Bank put the combined recovery costs at about US $4.4 billion and urged the government to take steps to boost disaster response.

It warned that a repeat of the flooding, the worst since the late 1960s, could not be ruled out.

Clogged waterways

Experts, in part, blamed last year's deluge on clogged drains and waterways. Nonetheless, government has largely failed to remove the thousands of informal settlers whose shanties continue to obstruct the waterways until now.

At the start of the wet season in June, the government said there were some 2.7 million informal settlers in Manila -- half a million of them living in flood-prone areas such as beneath bridges, on top of open sewers, swamps and riverbanks.

Francis Tolentino, head of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, suggested flood-control infrastructure is still wanting.

"I am sorry to say this, but our flood-control plan is still based circa 1952," he said over local radio on Sunday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the capital has yet to fully recover from the floods.

Urging Filipinos to draw lessons from the tragedy, he said: "We must be prepared for the unexpected".

"We can also prevent, if not reduce, the impact of last year’s flash floods by preserving our environment."

Tropical storms, floods, landslides, and maritime disasters killed nearly 2,000 people across the Philippines in 2009, the government said. – with reports from Zyann Ambrosio, Agence France-Presse