It was a bad combination of no flood warning, high tide, darkness and a false sense of security that resulted in a huge catastrophe after tropical storm Sendong raged over northern Mindanao over the weekend. Illegal logging, rapid urbanization and mining all worsened the situation. The death toll has climbed up to 711. Hundreds remained missing. More than 35,000 people are housed in evacuation centers.
Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang said “It’s unusual for Mindanao; a month’s worth of rainfall fell in only a few hours; people were already asleep; the storm hit pineapple plantations that don’t absorb water; it was high tide and waterways were heavily silted. It was unprecedented and overwhelming.”
Presidential adviser on environment Nerius Acosta said the deforestation of watersheds multiplied the effects of heavy rains. “We can really see how vulnerable we are. When you tamper with the watersheds and the forests, we become vulnerable,” he said.
The volume of rain poured down by Sendong is not normal for Northern Mindanao. According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), Sendong dumped less rain than Ondoy, which submerged 80 percent of Manila underwater.
Within a matter of six hours Ondoy poured 300 millimeters of rain. Sendong dumped 180 mm on Lumbia Airport in Misamis Oriental in a span of 24 hours.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said there was no warning to residents in the path of Sendong.
“There was no (warning) about the amount of rainfall. But Pagasa was accurate about the passage of the storm, about the coverage of areas that could possibly be affected by rains,” said Edgardo Ollet, NDRRMC operations center chief.
“They did not prepare for this level or intensity of the storm because these places had not experienced the level of typhoons like those felt in Luzon,” Ollet said, referring to local officials.
Reports said local disaster councils were not convened before the arrival of Sendong, assuming that storms don’t usually pass their way.