Cagayan de Oro flooding: Did PAGASA give enough warnings

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The state weather bureau issued several rainfall advisories starting Sunday, but the warning of ‘serious flooding’ was made only at 6:30 pm, Monday

MANILA, Philippines (Jan. 19, 2017) — In the aftermath of the massive flooding in Cagayan de Oro City that either stranded or displaced thousands on Monday, January 16, some netizens complained that the state weather bureau did not give enough warnings to the local government.

A two weeks’ worth of rain was dumped on the area in just 6 hours, local authorities said.

Rappler checked, and found that state weather bureau PAGASA issued thunderstorm warnings in different parts of Mindanao as early as Sunday, January 15. The agency released a 24-hour rainfall warning for Mindanao at around 6 am of Monday, January 16. It had given rainfall and thunderstorm warnings over Northern Mindanao from time to time, starting at around 10 am Monday.

The advisories mostly said that flash floods and landslides were possible in the affected areas. It was only at 6:30 pm when PAGASA issued a heavy rainfall advisory in Northern Mindanao and the Zamboanga Peninsula. This time, the warning said, “serious flooding is expected in low-lying areas.”

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HEAVY RAINFALL ADVISORY. A screenshot of PAGASA’s warning on Facebook from January 16, 2017.

Local governments were slow?

Vergil Lago, weather monitoring chief from Cagayan de Oro City’s disaster office, said that he had been in touch with PAGASA.

“They (PAGASA) released a weather advisory at 11 am that a [low pressure area] and the tail-end of a cold front was affecting Northern Mindanao. So with that, as a nature of my task or function, I did really monitor religiously. At around 1:20 pm, I did make my advisory using all communications, all means of communications to the barangays concerned,” Lago told Rappler in a phone interview.

“We have also documented as to the one who answered our call as to that advisory. So as to that early warning or forwarding, overdone. But the problem now is to the LGUs, to the barangay, the local government units of the barangays,” Lago added.

He admitted that he also referred to other weather stations when monitoring the two weather systems, but clarified that it is only for internal use and final advisories were still based on the forecasts from PAGASA.

When I did that referral, when I consulted some weather agencies, talagang nakikita ko. Kaya nga nagpalabas ako ng weather advisory, pinatawagan ko ‘yung mga barangay na may possible flooding na parang mukhang serious. So as early as 1:30 [pm], lumabas na ang advisory,” Lago explained.

(When I did that referral, when I consulted some weather agencies, I was really seeing it. That’s why I issued an advisory. We called the barangays where serious flooding is possible. So as early as 1:30 [pm], the advisory was released.)

When the city government was asked whether PAGASA’s warnings regarding serious flooding in the afternoon were clear, Lago said, “Template naman nila yun eh. (That is their template.) Kung basahin mo doon sa kanilang advisories, kita mo (If you will read their advisories, you will see) that with this [weather] system, expect moderate or occasional heavy rains and [be] careful with those landslides and flash floods.”

However, for residents who don’t understand scientific terms, PAGASA did have its shortcomings, Lago said.

Para sa mga tao na lang in general, para doon sa mga hindi nakakaintindi, para sa hindi nakapag-interpret in layman’s term doon sa mga advisories ng PAGASA, talagang nagkulang ‘yung PAGASA. But para sa akin na alam ko (at in usual contact ako sa PAGASA) kung meron akong hindi alam, talagang ako ang tumatawag sa kanila. So with that kind of being inquisitive, alam ko mag-interpret, so for me, hindi nagkulang ‘yung PAGASA,” he said.

(For those who cannot understand nor interpret PAGASA’s advisories in layman’s term, PAGASA really had its shortcomings. But for me, I am in usual contact with PAGASA. If I don’t know something, I would really call them. So with that kind of being inquisitive, I know how to interpret. So for me, they did not have any shortcomings.)

  by Gwen de la Cruz |