Nightmare continues for Philippine flood victims
But between 25 and 28 August, the situation became an unbearable nightmare. Eight provinces in Northern and Central Luzon, including the National Capital Region, were hit by two severe weather systems, carrying strong winds and heavy monsoon rains. Strong currents gushed through breached dikes, submerging villages under three metres of floodwater and trapping people on their rooftops.
With 70 per cent of the affected provinces under water, the area was transformed into a virtual sea. More than 32 people died and nearly one million people were affected, many of them left homeless.
"It was horrifying, the first time we had experienced such a huge flood. There was nowhere to go but to the roof of our house," a man called Boy told Red Cross relief worker Gallant Gatica of Tarlac Red Cross chapter. "I thought it was the end of the world for all of us."
Boy, from Apulid, Paniqui, Tarlac had to drag his wife and three children to the roof when he saw that the floodwater that had entered their house was fast rising.
"We were trapped in our rooftop for two days soaked by the rain with nothing to eat," Gatica quoted Boy as saying. "It was only when the flood subsided to waist-deep that I had the opportunity to go to the evacuation centre, where I got food assistance from the Red Cross."
Gatica said most of the people he spoke to had similar stories. They were all panicking and screaming. Children were crying and even the animals were howling and running for their lives.
"It was indeed a nightmare for those poor people," says Gatica.
Another person told Gatica: "I was so scared. The floods reminded me of the end of the world in Genesis in the Bible, and I was praying hard for Noah's Ark to come from heaven."
Gatica said the moment they heard about the widespread flooding in Paniqui, he and his disaster action team immediately hurried to the scene on board a four-wheel drive vehicle loaded with non-perishable food. But the floodwaters prevented them from reaching the isolated communities.
"We, too, were helpless. We felt so sorry for the affected families as we monitored on radio the worsening situation and the people panicking," says Gatica. "The most frustrating thing for us was when we knew that there were people trapped by floods yet we could not help. Paniqui which is just a 30 minute drive from our chapter in Tarlac city has become a place that was so near yet so far."
The army, police, air force and navy rescued people from the rooftops using helicopters and motorized boats. The Red Cross and other agencies assisted in comforting the rescued people and providing them with clothes and food.
Paniqui was one of the areas worst hit by the floods, with almost 34,000 people in 27 villages severely affected. Also badly hit was the town of Moncada, also in Tarlac, where 1,000 families remained cut off for days.
Other flooded areas were the provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Bataan, La Union, Nueva Viscaya and Metro Manila.
Luciano Paras, Jr., regional officer-in-charge of the Luzon region, said this was the first time the town of Paniqui had experienced huge flash floods. This was also the reason why the people were caught unprepared. In addition he said people were warned rather late.
Paras attributed the unprecedented floods in Paniqui and seven other towns in Tarlac to the monsoon rains induced by typhoons "Marce" (international name Aere) and "Chaba" which also triggered strong river currents that gushed out through the breached dike in the village of Colibangbang, also in Paniqui.
The floods spread fast in other towns in the province as well as in some parts of the nearby province of Pampanga.
Philippine National Red Cross chairman Richard J. Gordon, who inspected the flooded areas by helicopter says he was shocked by what he saw, especially by people who were trapped and could not receive relief goods because of high flood waters that prevented transportation to isolated places.
Gordon said the flood spread rapidly after four days of rains when 750 meters of Paniqui dike were breached by floodwaters rushing from the western side of the Mt Pinatubo volcano, which had been covered by lahars from the eruption in 1991.
The flood was aggravated by the release of waters from the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan, north of Tarlac, that flooded the towns in Moncada, Paniqui and Ramos in Tarlac. Forty-four of the forty-seven towns in Pangasinan were also inundated.
The Red Cross has provided initial food and relief goods worth more than US$27,000 to more than 54,000 people in the affected provinces. Relief consists of rice, canned goods, noodles, biscuits, compact food and used clothing.
With the extent of damage to crops, livestock and properties estimated at 479 million Philippines pesos (US$ 8.5 million / 10.75 million Swiss francs), the people of the disaster-stricken areas fear that with no means of livelihood left, their suffering will continue.
"The worst that could happen is when their children cry for food and they have nothing to give. That indeed, will be the most unbearable nightmare for our people," says Gallant.