Takeaway from the CDO flooding: Decrease vulnerability through preparedness

Last January 16, torrential rains caused a disastrous flooding in Cagayan de Oro; leaving at least 7 people dead and more than 6,800 displaced. The afternoon after the flooding occurred, the local weather bureau in Misamis Oriental has issued a rainfall warning alerting people in Northern Mindanao that heavy rains are expected to last four to five hours.

During the onslaught of the heavy rains, thousands of commuters were stranded due to chest-deep floodwaters that already occurred in low-lying areas. Even after the rain has stopped at 2A.M. of the following day, Cagayan de Oro disaster officials had to declare a state of calamity and carried out forced evacuation, specifically to those residing nearby the Ipunan River.

Probable cause of the flooding

Three major weather systems were all present in the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) during the time of flooding. These included (1) strong surge of the Northeast Monsoon (Amihan); (2) stationary Front extending from Central Visayas well into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean; and lastly, (3) weak Low Pressure Area (LPA) remnants of Tropical Disturbance 97W hanging over the western portion of Central Mindanao. These complex weather systems conspired to generate incessant rain over a wide swath of Northern Mindanao, particularly in the cities of Dipolog, Iligan, and Cagayan de Oro.


(Fig. 1.0) 66.6 mm in just 1 hour, recorded at SM City, Cagayan De Oro City.

Based on the 24-hour reading from WeatherPhilippines’ automated weather station (AWS), located in SM City, Cagayan de Oro, the city registered 188.20 mm, exceeding its monthly norm of 98.80 mm. The sustained cycle of lifting of moisture provided ripe conditions for the development of a series of strong thunderstorms to develop overland. This has spawned flooding rains and at times, windy conditions over a wide area, which lasted overnight hours. While common afternoon thunderstorms do not last for more than two to three hours, this particular rain event was uniquely significant for Cagayan de Oro and nearby areas.


Fig. 2.0) Recorded lightning strikes over the past hour taken at 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2017. Image from https://weatherph.org/weather-maps provided by © Meteologix AG

According to local authorities, the urban flooding may have been caused by torrential rains combined with factors such as topography, elevation, clogged or poor drainage systems, and silted rivers and/or blocked waterways.

Reducing risks through emergency preparedness

Natural calamities are like thieves that come in the middle of the night and catch you off-guard. Being prepared for such unfavorable  events do not need to be expensive or tedious. Here are some ways we can do to prepare for disasters:

  1. Always make sure that your house has an emergency kit. Generally, it should contain necessary survival items such as first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, drinking water and empty containers for water storage, infant needs (if you have a small child), sanitary supplies, and instant meals enough to last for at least three days.
  2. Create a general plan of what to do in case a calamity strikes. This should include where to go and what to take with you when evacuating. Make sure that everyone in the family knows how to execute the plan, even small children.
  3. Join community emergency drills to be updated with the latest recommended survival tips.
  4. Keep all your important documents in one secure place or container that cannot be penetrated by water. Always take note where it is so you can grab it easily during times of disaster.
  5. Constantly update the emergency contact numbers. If possible, print and laminate it with all family members’ numbers and provide a copy to everyone.

Surviving when disaster strikes

Here are some survival strategies that you should keep in mind when faced with disaster:

  1. Determine hazard warnings assigned to your area. Constantly check different media channels (radio, television, and social media) for security advice and warnings.
  2. Avoid going near bodies of water during extreme weather and rain alerts.
  3. When authorities issue a directive for evacuation from you area, be quick about it and there should be no second thoughts. Immediately go to the identified evacuation areas with your emergency kits and other important belongings.
  4. Contact emergency numbers in case you need assistance in evacuation, or if a family member needs medical attention. Secure that mobile phones’ batteries are full just in case there are power

While we cannot predict some weather systems such as thunderstorms, bulletins issued by the PAGASA, as well as daily updates from private weather organizations such as the WeatherPhilippines may be used to anticipate and prepare for possible impacts of heavy rainfall brought by various weather conditions. Disaster preparedness and education help a lot in mitigating damage to property and loss of lives. Ultimately, it pays to be #WeatherWiser.

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