CEBU CITY — Onlookers screamed for help as floods from the Kinalumsan River in Cebu City swept away a man and his shanty after a heavy downpour on Aug. 4, as seen in a video that went viral on social media. 

“It was all so sudden, when our house gave in. I was holding on to it because I was saving our things such as the fridge, packs of rice, and the like. It was my first time to witness floods that big,” the man who was later identified as Basil Baylosis said in his native Cebuano. 

The flooding that day triggered 13 incidents in the central city, including the rescue of trapped persons, landslides, impassable roads, and fallen trees, according to the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office. 

State weather bureau PAGASA said rain patterns were “unusual” in the first week of August. 

“It is 135 percent from the normal, which is above normal for Cebu,” PAGASA Mactan forecasting chief Jhomer Eclarino said. 

He said 212.9 mm of rainfall was recorded from Aug. 1 to 7, which is equivalent to 1.06 million barrels of water. The highest amount of rainfall was recorded on Aug. 4, when almost 60 percent of Cebu city was flooded, along with other nearby areas. 

While there are no studies yet on this phenomenon in the Visayas region, Eclarino said urban planning experts had warned the local governments of this scenario years back. 

Members of the Cebu city Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office remove illegal structures by the Kinalumsan River. Photo courtesy of Councilor Jerry Guardo
Members of the Cebu city Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office remove illegal structures by the Kinalumsan River. Photo courtesy of Councilor Jerry Guardo


 
In July 2017, non-government organization Cebu Leads Foundation Inc. presented to the local government units of Metro Cebu its projection on the flood situation. 

The study warned that rivers and tributaries could overflow even with the lightest rains. It cited garbage and structures by the riverbanks among primary factors. The projections covered the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapulapu, and Talisay, and Consolacion town.

“As a whole, flooding [in Cebu City] is mainly caused by the overflowing of Kinalumsan River and its tributaries where slopes are flat and cross-sections are constricted; inadequate number of drainage lines; decreasing capacity of drainage lines due to blocking of garbage and siltation; and absence of drainage mains/trunks,” according to the study. 

The foundation recommended that the city clear waterways and implement new strategies and technologies to catch rainwater. However, these recommendations were not implemented.

Fast forward to 2022, the city is working double time to remove structures and shanties that are obstructing waterways. 

“Rich or poor, there is no excuse. If they are on the 3-meter easement, we will remove them,” said city Councilor Jerry Guardo, who is overseeing demolition.

 Members of the Cebu city Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office remove illegal structures by the Kinalumsan River. Photo courtesy of Councilor Jerry Guardo
Members of the Cebu city Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office remove illegal structures by the Kinalumsan River. Photo courtesy of Councilor Jerry Guardo


 
Thirty-eight families have been displaced so far and are set to receive financial assistance or will settle at the city’s relocation site. Signages are now visible in no-build zones, where barangays are tasked to monitor the waterways and deter residents who insist on going back. 

On top of this, the city is implementing P100 million worth of flood control projects, including dredging and rehabilitation of drainage lines that lead to the 7 major rivers of the city, said Guardo of the city council’s infrastructure committee. 

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama also created a special task force against flooding, made up of major offices under the city’s executive department and government agencies involving environment, public works and disaster risk reduction and management.

“They shall participate in the formulation of the plans, and policies and implementation of the projects and programs in relation to the combat against severe flooding and to develop the city of Cebu as a flood-resilient city,” Rama’s executive order reads.

The task force was given until Sept. 19 to finalize a flood control master plan that should include housing resettlement proposals.

The group meets daily basis to deliver on the deadline, with several more storms projected to hit the country before the year ends. 

Ths report is part of our Climate and Water Nexus Fellowship, in partnership with Earth Journalism Network

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