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Olongapo flooding worse than 'Ondoy'

Olongapo's welcome rotunda is flooded in this August 7, 2012 photograph of Madj Avila.
The online news portal of TV5

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines -- Torrential rains brought by the southwest monsoon over the past days inundated Olongapo City in floods worse than those brought by storm “Ondoy” in late 2009.

Floods hit the city as early as Monday afternoon, stranding thousands of passengers coming from work.

Those working inside the Subic Bay Freeport had to walk from the Freeport gates to as far as Barangay Cabalan as floods in the city’s main roads brought traffic to a standstill.

On Monday night, Olongapo city Mayor Bong Gordon ordered the suspension of classes at all levels as well as all government work, except for emergency and disaster response operations, Tuesday in anticipation of continuing rains.

Hardest hit by the floodwaters were barangays Sta. Rita, Mabayuan, New Ilalim, East Bajac Bajac and West Bajac-Bajac. Residents on 1st Street in Barangay New Banicain had their first taste of knee-deep floods.

At around 6 a.m. Tuesday, the city’s central areas were already knee to waist-deep in floods.  Other areas along Acacia Street in Gordon Heights and Tabacuhan were also under water as deep as five feet. 

Five persons were washed away by floodwaters as they were having a drinking spree on a riverbank on 12th Street, Barangay East Tapinac, which was waist-deep in floods.

Their neighbors said two of them were able to hold on to what looked like tree roots and survived.

However, two others died, their bodies recovered several kilometers away. The fifth victim was later reported confined in a hospital, although his condition remained unknown as of this posting.

At 9 a.m., a frantic resident turned to Facebook seeking help to rescue her relatives, including a deaf-mute, on Avocado Street in Barangay Sta. Rita.  Rescue workers, however, found it hard to get to them as their boats quickly filled with wailing flood victims even before they could reach the area that, by noon, was inundated in 10 feet of floodwater. 

The deaf mute was finally rescued after 12 long hours.

Around noon, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority director Benjamin Antonio started a donation drive for food, used clothing, blankets, canned goods and drinking water. He also called for volunteers to work at the Subic Bay Gym, where donations were received and dispatched.

An earthquake struck at a little past 1:00 p.m., adding to the fears of flood victims waiting to be rescued.   

At 2 p.m., Magsaysay Drive corner Rizal Ave., the city’s former red light district, was waist deep in floodwater. 

Joint rescue teams from the city government and Barangay Sta. Rita, the worst hit village, had their hands full rescuing people from sitios where waters had risen to the rooftops of two-story houses.

Crying victims on rooftops greeted them. By this time, the rescue teams had already worked for almost 20 hours nonstop since Monday evening. 

Rescuers from Sta. Rita rested for only an hour Tuesday afternoon before resuming operations, transporting flood victims to the jampacked and also flooded Sta. Rita Elementary School.

Past 3 p.m., the SMBA also made the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center available to evacuees, not only from Olongapo but also the nearby provinces of Bataan and Zambales.

An hour later, floodwaters along the city’s main thoroughfares, including the Ulo ng Apo Rotonda, reached chest deep, making roads impassable even to heavy vehicles and stranding thousands of motorists.

To save their vehicles from the unprecedented floods, many residents parked them overnight at the fifth floor of the SM shopping mall.

By 11 p.m., Armie Llamas of the SBMA Public Relations Department was still appealing for donations of mats, blankets, slippers, garments, food, water and basic medicines for evacuees housed at the SBECC.