Residents were unprepared for a disaster of such scale in a town that had gained headway in reducing flooding and in sprucing itself up. But as some of them point out, everything in Marikina had been so good that they never thought it could be this bad.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Of all the areas in Marikina City, Provident Village is the most prone to flooding. It is hemmed in by the Marikina River, which flows from the province of Rizal in the north and forms an inverted letter S right near Calumpang, turning up to Tañong, then down again to Barangka. Provident Village, as well as several other subdivisions, is right inside the top curve of the inverted S.
The allure of that portion of Marikina – many of the houses there face the river – is also its deadliest feature. The top curve of the inverted S, in a way, catches the river, breaking its flow. When overflowing, the river easily breaches into the villages inside the curve before it meanders upward. That is exactly what happened when Ondoy dumped massive amounts of rainwater on it last week.
From a purely geographical perspective, that spot in Marikina should not have been a residential area, said Meliton B. Juanico, an urban and environment planner and chairman of the Department of Geography at the University of the Philippines. Or if houses were to be built there, they would have to be fairly above ground or protected by a dike.
In any case, given the location of Provident Village and the others, it stands to reason that, in times of flooding or a major storm, it should be a priority area in terms of disaster management. But residents there swear it wasn’t.
“Given the number of deaths here, obviously there has been no preparation for this kind of disaster,” said Chieboy Sillona. It was too early to determine how many actually died in Provident Village but three days after Ondoy left, rescuers were still finding bodies trapped inside homes.
Floodwaters had come to them in rampaging torrents, Sillona’s relatives recalled. There was little time to do anything but scamper to higher ground, which, in just an hour, had meant the rooftop of two to three-storey houses in their village.
Before midnight, most village residents were already on top their roofs, praying for rescue while watching the raging waters that had submerged their village. “Even if you could swim, the strong current would likely sweep you away,” Sillona said. That, in a way, made him understand why rescuers started arriving only a day later, when there was light and the current had eased.
Sillona, a human-resources executive at a call-center company, was one of the many Filipinos who opted to stay in their offices because Metro Manila had been submerged, using phones and the Internet in that blackest of nights last weekend to keep friends and relatives posted on what’s happening.
The Sillona family’s compound after the storm (Photo courtesy of Chieboy Sillona / bulatlat.com)
In its scale and suddenness, the disaster was unprecedented in the country’s long list of disasters. For Sillona and the rest of Marikina residents still grappling with the flood, it was worse because before these much flood and mud hit their town, the city had not only reaped awards for being the cleanest and most disciplined municipality in the country — it was also the showcase of former Marikina mayor Bayani Fernando for his attempt at the presidency.
Residents were unprepared for a disaster of such scale in a town that had gained headway in reducing flood and in sprucing itself up. But as some of them pointed out, everything in Marikina had been so good that they never thought it could be this bad.
Since Sillona’s family moved to Provident Village, they had experienced two major inundations. Ondoy’s was the third and the worst. The first was in 1978, another was in 1988. In both previous floods, “the water reached up to our ground floor ceiling,” Sillona said.