'Not the time to blame': Isabela gov says forced evacuations would lead to more deaths

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 16 2020 09:54 AM | Updated as of Nov 16 2020 12:02 PM

Parts of Isabela province remain inundated with floodwater in this aerial photo taken on Nov. 15, 2020. Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - The provincial government of Isabela prepared for floods but did not anticipate the magnitude of water that came after Typhoon Ulysses’ onslaught, its governor said Monday.

Speaking to ANC’s “Matters of Fact,” Isabela Governor Rodolfo Albano III said the last time the province experienced severe flooding was over 4 decades ago.

“We were prepared but we were caught unaware of this kind of magnitude that the volume of water coming into the Cagayan River,” he said.

“We never expected this much water because the last time it happened was in 1978 so after more than 40 years of flooding this is the only time the Cagayan River swelled at this magnitude.”

The large amount of floodwater, which emanated from the heavy downpour of successive storms that battered the Philippines, came from 38 tributaries of Cagayan River, he added.

Albano said the flooding, which left 3 people dead while 2 others remain missing, submerged half of the province. To date, a fifth of Isabela, particularly in its first district, is still under water.

Before Ulysses hit the Philippine landmass, he said they received prior warning about water release in Magat Dam, which contributed to the severe flooding in parts of the Cagayan Valley region.

Prior to Typhoon Ulysses, 5 storms brought "continuous rain for almost 2 months" in Luzon that prompted Magat Dam to open 2 gates equivalent to 4 meters of water level to prevent the reservoir from reaching its critical level, the National Irrigation Administration earlier said.

On Monday, the water level of Magat Dam reached 192.28 meters, close to its holding capacity of 193 meters.

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Albano said they had brought scores of residents to safer ground, but even their evacuation centers were flooded.

“It’s not the time to blame people now kasi hindi talaga inaasahan ‘yung ganitong pangyayari (because we didn’t really expect for something like this to happen). Even if we prepared very carefully, hindi talaga kaya (it wouldn’t be enough),” he said.

While rescue and relief operations are ongoing, some “hardheaded” residents chose to stay on rooftops to look after their properties and livestock, the governor said.

"Some of them were rescued. Some of them stayed in their roofs. They didn't want to go out from their houses, and they were given ample relief goods. Until now we're delivering relief goods to them,” he said.

Albano noted that those residents staying on rooftops, which the number he said runs to about 100, were “out of danger” and had boats they can use.

FORCED EVACUATIONS

Asked if they had implemented forced evacuation, he said it was part of the provincial government’s protocols to ensure their constituents’ safety.

“Even if you want to evacuate them, ang titigas ng ulo (they are stubborn). Ayaw talaga umalis (They don’t want to evacuate). May mga iba magvo-volunteer, may iba hindi talaga (Some volunteered to be evacuated while others didn’t),” he said.

In the interview, Albano said implementing forced evacuation could have led to more casualties. He was speaking to the experience in the US where residents reportedly were forced at gunpoint.

“Mas marami kang magiging casualty pagka gano’n ang protocol na gagawin do’n. Tutukan mo ng baril ‘yung mga tao na mag-evacuate. Eh mamaya umangal ‘yun o lumundag, mas lalo kaming kawawa do’n. Mas dadaming casualty do’n,” he said.

(We would have more casualties if we implemented that kind of protocol. Holding those people who wouldn’t evacuate at gunpoint. What if they resist or jump off the boat? We would be pitiful. There would be more casualties.)

Albano bared that one resident who was forced to evacuate died when the victim attempted to save the belongings.

Asked about the delay in information of the flooding situation in the province, the governor said the telecommunication lines in Isabela were cut off.

“Everybody was cut off here… So how can we give you such information. Sana kung meron kayong mga crews dito. Yung crews nga ng ibang station pinalipad ko pa para tignan ‘yung damage dito sa Isabela and Cagayan (If only you have a crew here. I allowed crews of other stations to conduct aerial inspection to check the damage in Isabela and Cagayan),” he said.

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