Lessons from ‘habagat’

All we really need to know, we learned from Pinatubo, Ondoy and Sendong experiences (Dissecting the “Habagat” story in the City of San Fernando, Pampanga)

The damp eve of August 7 signaled the start of a series of events that seriously affected the City where I live in. Continuous downpour of heavy monsoon (habagat) rains and the breaching of a major dike caused floods and affected more than 18,000 families. Water levels in major thoroughfares rose and vital road networks became impassable.

Memorandum Circular 33 from the Malacanang Palace announces that all classes and government offices are are suspended. During this time, families from  affected areas (22 out of the 35 villages) in the City were evacuating their homes. Flood waters started to rise in the Poblacion Area (City Hall and Metropolitan Cathedral area), Lazatin Boulevard, and Jose Abad Santos Avenue.

Non-stop rescue and relief operations continues as the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office led by Mayor Oscar Rodriguez himself together with Executive Officer and City Administrator Ferdinand Caylao.

Heroes Hall became the ‘staging area’ and operations center. Hotline 961-HELP got disconnected but was immediately replaced by new hotline numbers. The Official Facebook page of San Fernando (https://www.facebook.com/CityOfSanFernando) became the most reliable source of information for netizens and “Likes” spiked from 10,000 to 12,000++ in just 3 days.

Memo enjoining employees of City Hall to serve as “Emergency Workforce” to lend a hand to the rescue and relief operations was released.
Immediate and long-term solutions to the flooding problem caused by dike damages and the need to re-channel the waterways were resolved during an emergency meeting at the Heroes Hall with the Provincial, City and Municipal Governments’ officials, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the private sector leaders who were also notable personalities during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption (Save Pampanga Movement) such as Mr. Levy Laus.

Resolutions (Quoted from the actual resolution signed)

1. Immediate re-channeling of the waterway from Gugu Creek down to San Francisco and Labuan rivers;
2. Immediate closure, thereafter, of the two breached portions of the tail dike;
3. The rehabilitation and or reconstruction of spillways 1 and 3 located in the western portion and the center of the transverse dike;
4. The revival of the waterways of the Pasig Potrero River from the upper portion of the transverse dike particularly from the Maliwalu portions;and
5. Continuing yearly allocation of the necessary funds for the maintenance of the above indicated river channels.

More help arrived as President Noynoy Aquino visited the City to distribute relief goods in Brgy. Sto. Nino. Earlier that day, Cabalen and PLDT Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan together with Team Pilipinas also visited the City.

More calls on relief operations were received by the CDRRMO. More donations and assistance also came. Updates were continuously forwarded to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of Civil Defense. Media were kept informed through ‘situationers’ and a website page was added for easy access on updates – http://www.cityofsanfernando.gov.ph/new/disaster.php

Sadly, at around 1:00pm, rumors of lahar flow caused panic in the City’s downtown area. This is confirmed to be a ‘false alarm.’

What we learned from this, we learned in Pinatubo, Ondoy and Sendong:

1. Power of Information. Call, text, Facebook or tweet. Listen to authorities and do not be misinformed.

2. Resiliency. This is not the first time. We should be stronger and braver.

3. Preparedness. The need for a rescue team and disaster center. We are living in “abnormal” times. Every household should also be prepared.

4. Unity. Let’s do things together.

5. Faith in God. Pray.

I admire the San Fernando Rescue Unit (SAFRU) led by Raymond del Rosario. Kayo ang tunay na “water-proof.” Special thanks to the many Fernandinos on Facebook, especially Mr. Alwyn Balingit from St. Jude, you are our ‘digital warrior.’ And to to the officials and employees of the City Government of San Fernando, number one saan man magpunta!

To the coverage team, Rudy, Rico, Errol and Pot plus the PAMPU boys Alvin, Jed, and Daniel, iba kayo!  To the rest, salamat! To my colleagues who were affected, malalampasan natin ‘to! 

Photo credits:

CSFP-CIO (Public Affairs and Media Production Unit)


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