Preventing future 'Ondoy', 'Ulysses' flooding

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

November 30, 2020, 6:41 pm

MANILA – On the night of November 11, Tayn Limson already felt the strong winds rapping on their windows. At that time, Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) already made landfall in Quezon, packing maximum sustained winds of 150 kilometer per hour.

"Sobrang lakas ng hangin naririnig mo 'yong whistle sa awang ng windows pero iniisip ko parang kasing lakas lang siya nung nanalasa yung Habagat samin dati kaya di kami masyadong natatakot. Tapos naalala ko nag-story pa ko sa IG ng mga 1:07 (Nov. 12) kasi nag-a-alarm na yung Marikina River na nasa 16 meters na yung taas niya (The wind was strong that you can hear it whistling in between the gap of the windows, it’s like the monsoon. I even posted an update on Instagram Stories around 1:07 a.m. because the Marikina River was already at 16 meters," she narrated.

While the ferocious winds were banging on their walls, it didn't quite alarm the family at first. But by daylight, fear and panic quickly swept through their household after her mother alerted them that the river water has overflowed.

"Pagkababa ko sa 1st floor namin, nagulat ako kasi nakita ko umaagos na yung tubig parang flash flood. Ili-likas ko pa sana 'yong kotse namin kaso wala na madadaanan (When I went down, I was shocked to see the water rapidly flowing, it was like a flash flood. I tried to save our car but to no avail)," she said.

"Ang bilis ng taas ng tubig talaga. Sinalba namin lahat ng kaya naming sagipin na gamit kaso lumubog halos lahat kasi ang bilis talaga umangat nung tubig (The rise of water was so quick. We tried to carry what we could but most of our stuff was really submerged)," she added.

In less than an hour, her two-storey house was almost inundated up to the second floor, with the first floor submerged with flood and mud. Around that time, the water was just six steps away from their second floor.

"Sobrang nakakatakot kasi nakita kong rumagasa talaga 'yong tubig tapos minutes lang nasa loob na ng bahay (It was terrifying to see the raging floodwater, in just a few minutes it’s already inside the house)," she said. "Nakakakatakot talaga. Akala namin malulunod na kami (It was really scary. We thought we were going to drown)."

"Nag-u-usap na kami ng mga kapatid ko kung paano i-a-angat 'yong dalawang senior kong parents pati mga pets namin paakyat ng bubong. Hindi sila marunong lumangoy kasi (We have no idea how we were going to carry our two senior parents including our pets to the roof should the water continue to rise. They don’t know how to swim)," she shared.

Photo by Tayn Limson

The family tried to ask for rescuers but the lines were likewise inundated with calls for help that weren't able to reach them at that moment. Fortunately, the water subsided around 9 p.m. on Nov. 12 -- her parents were safe and the flood did not rise further.

Tayn said the experience was akin to the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009. Although she was not in Marikina that time, her family likened Ulysses to the devastating typhoon, which swamped most of Marikina in 2009 and killed dozens of people.

"Lahat kami tulala pero mabuti walang masamang nangyari sa amin. Lahat ng naiwan naming gamit sa 1st floor lumubog lahat pati kotse namin. 'Yong mga photo albums namin wala nabasa na lahat pati ilang appliances. 'Di na kaya isalba kasi may makapal na putik na kasama yung flood (We were utterly shocked but thank goodness nothing bad happened to us. All of our things in the first floor, including our car were submerged in mud)," she said.

More than two weeks after Marikina experienced the wrath of Typhoon Ulysses and witnessed the worst flooding next to "Ondoy", Tayn said: "Makakabangon". A Filipino word, which means "to recover".

What's important is that no life was lost among her family, she said.

Photo by Tayn Limson

"Sama sama naman kami kaya sa tingin ko makakabangon naman kami kahit papaano. Sobrang naiiyak din ako sa lahat ng tumulong sa amin during at tsaka after ng flood. Pati mga hindi mo inaasahang mga tao nagpapaabot ng tulong (We’re all together so I think we can recover at least. I’m just overwhelmed that even strangers helped us)," she said.

For Tayn, the alarm system would have been more helpful had it been activated way before the water rose.

"Sa tingin ko po kasi kulang yung nag-a-alarm lang sila na pataas na yung tubig sa Marikina River. Lahat po ng reminders ng bagyo eh sa TV lang talaga namin nalalaman (They should’ve focused on the alarm system, because it only went on when the water already overflowed)" she said.

"Yung masakit din sa puso ko noon was walang dumating na rescue para tulungan kami. Grabe kasi tumaas 'yong tubig tapos parehong senior pa parents ko. Hindi ko talaga alam yung gagawin ko noong mga oras na yun (What’s upsetting was that there was no immediate rescued. The water was really high then and my parents were both seniors. I really don’t know what I would do that time)," she said.

Tayn said the experience was so traumatic they are now planning to move out. "Si mommy at tsaka daddy ayos na rin naman, kaso ayaw na nila rito tumira, (My mom and dad are okay, but they don’t want to live here anymore)" Tayn said. "Parang nakakatakot na kasi tumira dito everytime na may bagyo. 'Yong trauma namin ng family ko sa Typhoon Ulysses hindi na mabubura (It’s terrifying to live here when there’s a storm. We’ll always carry the trauma Typhoon Ulysses brought to us)."

Tayn said her family is thinking of selling the house and move to a much higher place in Marikina.

"Malinis kasi dito sa Marikina sa totoo lang. And halos lahat ng relatives ko sa father side nandito (It’s clean here in all fairness. And most of my relatives on the father side are here)," she said.

The case for Thea Poncian from Barangay Tumana, Marikina, on the other hand, is quite different. She said she cannot move out since the property is the only one she has, one that’s already theirs.

Photo courtesy of Thea Poncian

"Wala po (kaming planong lumipat na), sarili na po kasi namin ang bahay po dito (We don’t have a plan to leave because this house is already ours)," she said.

But her experience was equally distressing as those of Tayn's when "Ulysses" battered the city. She and her family had to rush outside their home and find refuge at the uppermost floor of her neighbor when the water from a nearby creek spilled.

"Noong mag-ala-una ng madaling araw, kinatok kami ng kapitbahay namin nandiyan na raw ang tubig. Umapaw na pala 'yong creek malapit sa amin at ‘yong tubig napakabilis hanggang sa mag-1:30am pinasok na ang bahay namin (Around 1 a.m., our neighbor was already knocking on our door, saying the water is here. The creek apparently overflowed. Things happened quickly because by 1:30 am, the water already entered the house)," she narrated.

Her entire belongings down to their clothes were drenched with muddy waters. "Nakaka-iyak po kasi lahat po ng gamit namin wala na kahit po mga damit lubog po ang bahay namin, puno nalang po ng mangga ang nakita (It was upsetting because everything was drenched, our house fully-submerged, you can only see the mango tree)."

Recovery for her might take time, Thea said, comparing with the situation when Typhoon Ondoy hit them. In 2009, it took them almost a year to recover, she said.

"Matagal din po kagaya ng sa Ondoy, isang taon po siguro kasi wala na po lahat ng gamit namin (I think it will take time like when Ondoy struck, it took almost a year because our belongings were all swept away)," she said.

Photo by Thea Poncian

"Panibagong pagsubok nanaman po ang haharapin pero pipiliting bumangon ulit, mahirap kasi 'di namin alam kung paano kasi lahat nawala sa amin walang tinira (This is another challenge that we have to face and it will be difficult because nothing was left)," she added.


Although most of the Marikina residents who took refuge in evacuation centers have gone back to their homes, Rhianne Villaraza said those whose houses were totally wrecked by the typhoon are still there.

Rhianne’s family was among the many groups who heeded the call and took it upon themselves to initiate a donation drive that has so far aided 300 families in Marikina to date.

"I think it’s gonna take a while before everything goes back to normal. Marami pang naglilinis, nagre-restore ng nasira nilang mga bahay/properties. Some business establishments are still trying to cope and recover from the aftermath. However, we have high hopes, and we’re continuously praying that in time, people would be able to live their usual daily lives again," she told the PNA.

Two of the hardest-hit areas that day were Barangays Malanday and Tumana, where the flood level reached up to the 2nd floor of the resident’s homes. Rhianne said most of them were at work on the day of the typhoon, so they barely managed to save their belongings.

"My cousin and I started collecting clothes from our close friends so that they would have something to use in the meantime. Because so many people responded, and we got overflowing donations, the family decided to extend help to those living in Nangka, Marikina," she said.

To this day, the family initiative continues to give out aid.

Photo courtesy of Rhianne Villaraza

Rhianne believes Marikina did a “fairly good job” in terms of calamity response because nobody expected that the river level would reach 22 meters in such a short time. Despite this, a lot of work needs to be done.

“At this point, I think community disaster preparation is vital since we’re a flood-prone city. It’s something that our government should focus on,” she said.

“Apart from that, maybe open job opportunities for the people gravely affected. We don’t want them to rely solely on donations. Eventually, they should be able to earn and provide again for their families; something that would benefit them in the long run,” she added.

‘Saving the watershed’

The city is now in the recovery stage but environmentalists warned that such massive floods will keep coming in the future if forest degradation continues in the Upper Marikina Watershed.

The Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) covers over 26,000 hectares of protected area in the towns of Baras, Rodriguez, San Mateo, Tanay, and Antipolo in Rizal.

But what does it have to do with the flooding in Marikina?

To visualize, a watershed is like an umbrella positioned upside down-- the sides are the mountains of Sierra Madre (watershed) and the base is the Marikina River.

"(Because of illegal activities in the land) ‘yong water wala nang pumipigil because wala na 'yong mga puno. Ang function ng forest and ng healthy soils is to regulate stormwater so scientifically if wala nang forest and healthy soils, the water will just rush and when they rush and they come from different mountains, they go to a basin, one basin-- the Marikina-Pasig River," said Billie Dumaliang, trustee and advocacy officer at Masungi Georeserve.

Masungi forms over 2,000 of the 26,000-hectare Marikina Watershed.


Photo courtesy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Forest Management Bureau

No settlement, quarrying, logging nor sale is allowed in the area, but to this day, Billie said such activities remain rampant in some parts of the Upper Marikina Watershed.

For Billie, conservation is a crucial step to prevent future great flooding similar to the ones brought by Typhoon Ondoy and Ulysses. “It is the only long-term and sustainable solution coupled with, of course, proper disaster risk management from government and (smart) infrastructure,” she said.

Aside from these, strict enforcement of the laws protecting these areas is also a must.

“With climate change, there will be more rains, typhoons, and landslides based on science, and if we don’t restore the forest of Upper Marikina the instances of landslides and flooding happening will definitely worsen,” she warned in Filipino. (PNA)