The online news portal of TV5
MANILA - Tropical storm “Ondoy” will forever be remembered as the Philippines’ belated and deadly wake-up call. At its worst, Ondoy brought thousands of Filipino families searching for their loved ones, while trying to salvage whatever is left of their homes. On the other hand, it also united the nation, even for a while, in taking steps to prevent a repeat of this tragedy.
On the morning of September 26, 2009, Ondoy was deemed a featherweight compared to the past typhoons that visited the country. It was slow (65 kilometers per hour) and weak (maximum sustained winds of 65 km/hr and gustiness of up to 80 km/hr).
But like a stealthy boxer, Ondoy packed in the punches. In just six hours, between 8 am and 2 pm, Ondoy dumped 341 millimetres of water or a month’s worth of rain over Metro Manila, leaving areas that were usually not prone to floods submerged for weeks.
Ondoy’s havoc was unleashed in the cities of Caloocan, Marikina, Malabon, Muntinlupa, Quezon, Makati, Manila, Pasay, Pasig, Taguig, Antipolo, Valenzuela and San Juan. It also triggered major floods in the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal and Laguna.
Residential areas along the Markina, Pasig and Tullahan rivers were badly hit as the already clogged streams became swollen with raging water that carried everything in its path. Ondoy’s wrath was forever remembered by residents of the upscale Provident Village in Markina City and the informal settlers of Bagong Silangan village in Quezon City.
Residents of Provident Village had climbed to their rooftops and other structures as their subdivision became the catch basin of the mighty Marikina River, the floodwaters climbing to nearly 23 feet. At least two Philippine celebrities, Jennica Garcia and Kristine Reyes, took to their Twitter accounts to ask for help until makeshift boats and a jetski came to their aid. Other less known people had to spend most of the night on their rooftops, the cold rains dampening their hopes to be saved.
But it was nothing compared to what happened in Bagong Silangan. The lightweight houses in this impoverished village were easily toppled by the raging river. Some of the lucky ones climbed on top of trees, waiting for their salvation. Romeo Abia, however, and 26 other people including his wife and two children, held on to dear life on top of debris that floated for nearly six hours from the Tumana River in Quezon City to the floodgates of the Pasig River. From the 26 that found refuge in the debris, only six, Romeo and his family included, survived.
For weeks, survival stories like these and accounts of heroism were reported by the media. Aid and support from all over the globe also poured in. It would take days before the grisly figure of the confirmed dead was finally announced: 337 dead, countless missing.
Hundreds of commuters were stranded for hours in the flooded metro streets. Metro Manila was under a state of calamity and then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the MRT and LRT operations open for 24 hours. Government officials like then Secretary for Defense Gilberto Teodoro took the MRT train to the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Quezon City to assess the devastation of Ondoy.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council (now called the National Risk Reduction and Management Council) pegged the estimated damage from Ondoy at P10.45 billion. This total is broken down into P3.864 billion in infrastructure damages and P6.766 billion in agriculture losses.
After Ondoy, the state weather bureau came under fire for not fully warning the public about the amount of rains brought by the killer storm. But the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) called for better, more modern facilities, including the acquisition of more Doppler radars that can be used to better predict the estimated rain water carried by storms. Under the Aquino administration, Pagasa stepped into the future and became one of the most followed and active Twitter users, providing minute-by-minute weather updates and bulletins.
Today, the search continues for solutions to ensure another catastrophe like Ondoy does not occur again.
Among these is a proposel by Marikina Representative Romero Federico Quimbo on Monday proposed the construction of a dam.
Quimbo also called for a comprehensive flood control project to make sure that the city will not be inundated anew by heavy and continuous downpour similar to the tragedy on September 26, 2009 that killed dozens of people and destroyed dozens of properties.
“The resilience of Marikenyos made it possible for us to bounce back after Ondoy but we constantly live in fear of another Ondoy unless intermediate, comprehensive and effective strategies to address flooding in our City are adopted,” he said.
The lawmaker lamented that, since Ondoy, no major flood control project has yet been drawn up.
Putting up a dam in the nearby area in Montalban, Rizal could be the quickest solution, he said, adding that the Marikina River is already heavily silted.
“A dam located upriver will contain the rain water for a few hours instead of immediately bringing it down to the Marikina River system. The dam can also be a source of energy which the country needs in the next three years anyway. Based on the reports of DOE (Department of Energy), we will have critical levels of power come 2014,” Quimbo said.
But for a long-term solution, he said a more comprehensive solution is needed, one that involves waste segregation, the clean-up and rehabilitation or drainage and creek systems, and the reforestation of the Marikina watershed.
“To make the watershed effective in preventing floods, at least 25 million trees need to be replanted considering that almost 80% of the 28,000 hectare watershed is already denuded. And it will probably take at least 10 years to do that,” he said.
“In the meantime, the city is at the mercy of nature. With global warming taking its full toll, we continue to worry that more rains will be forthcoming in the next two years. We cannot wait that long. We fear another Ondoy happening unless intermediate and comprehensive flood mitigation programs are implemented along the river,” Quimbo said.
Like all devastating storms, Ondoy has been deleted from Pagasa’s list of storm names that they usually recycle.
But Ondoy cannot be forgotten. It has entered the Filipino language, as the byword for an unusual weather and its widespread devastation. It has become the storm against which all storms are measured. The public’s vivid memory of Ondoy's wrath serves as a constant reminder of how deadly nature can be and why we must never take it for granted. (with a report from LIra Dalangin-Fernandez)