CEBU CITY — The sight of several houses being washed away by the current in Butuanon River in Mandaue City last Sept. 9 was one never seen before by people who happened to pass by the area at the time.
It left passersby either stunned or scared, especially as some of them personally know some residents in that part of Barangay Casuntingan.
“I was more than scared because some of my friends lived there, so I was worried too,” said tricycle driver Felix Lansang, who witnessed and recorded on video the tragedy that was caused by torrential rains.
The swelling of the Butuanon River that day displaced more than 400 families, or over 1,800 people, according to local authorities.
It also caused flooding in the main highways, impeding traffic to the dismay of hundreds of motorists and commuters.
While some residents have returned to their homes as water level subsided, others remain in evacuation centers, waiting for funds to rebuild their houses.
Amount of Rainfall
Based on PAGASA Mactan’s radar, the average rainfall in Cebu during severe thunderstorms reaches up to 100mm, equivalent to over 500,000 barrels of water, even without the presence of a typhoon.
“It is normal heavy rainfall, especially when it is the rainy season of La Niña. That is how our climatology department sees it,” says weather forecasting division Chief Jhomer Eclarino during a media forum.
Because of the unusual weather patterns and the risk of displacement of more families, the Mandaue City government is working double time to implement engineering interventions to mitigate flooding, especially from the Butuanon River.
The Butuanon River winds through Mandaue, Cebu City and adjacent Consolacion town.
Projects worth more than P1 billion have already been implemented to control the flood, according to figures released during a Sept. 14 roundtable discussion with national agencies and stakeholders.
However, it is not enough. Another P5 billion is needed to install water catchment devices and to facilitate the relocation of informal settlers living along the river.
“I need your help, especially in the barangay as we continue to do our drainage impact assessment,” Mayor Jonas Cortes said during the meeting.
The University of the Philippines Cebu – Center for Environmental Informatics has been prodding the Mandaue government to fast track these projects and actions as they have seen an increased risk of flooding based on their hazard mapping.
In a project called “Smart City solutions to Traffic and Urban Flooding” or Smart-TUrf, they saw how quickly the affected areas will be submerged in flood waters – especially from the Butuanon River – in the next few years if no mitigating action is taken.
“Especially that flood plains are being inhabited now,” said Chito Patiño, Supervising Science Research Specialist of UP CENVI.
Flood plains are areas where water is supposed to pass through such as old rice farms.
“Commercial, industrial or residential developments in flood plains tend to inhibit water from being absorbed by soil. Most construction activities favor concrete materials,” said Patiño.
While budget constraints are being ironed out, the immediate actions of the Mandaue City government are the continued clean-up efforts and dredging, as well as constant follow-ups with concerned agencies regarding the flood mitigation plans, before another heavy downpour occurs.
Before the year ends, more tropical cyclones are likely to enter the country, with their tracks possibly including Cebu as Typhoon Odette did in December 2021, leaving billions of pesos worth of damage in the Central Visayas region.