In the midst of Typhoon Pepeng’s powerful downpour, Gerald Lomibao, 23, a resident of Binmaley, a town four hours drive from San Roque Dam, heard the siren. Then barangay tanods rushed by to remind him that the siren meant that the dam was about to release water and Gerald and his family had three hours to evacuate to higher ground.
But in 15 minutes the flood had arrived, creeping steadily higher until the Lomibao family had to flee to an upper floor.“Kinagabihan, lubog na ang ground floor namin," Gerald told GMANews.TV in a phone interview. “Hindi naman po namin maiwan mga gamit namin. Wala rin kaming mapupuntahan dahil napapaligiran kami ng palaisdaan,"
As the worst floods in the history of Pangasinan slowly subside, and residents ponder their ruined homes and property, the inadequacy of warning given by both the dam operators and local governments is only one of the issues spurring outrage from residents, senators, and activists.
Water released from San Roque Dam has been blamed for the massive flooding of many towns and cities in Pangasinan, including Rosales City. GMANews.TV
Pangasinan’s provincial government and Senator Chiz Escudero have threatened to file law suits against the San Roque Power Corporation, which operates the dam along the Agno River, and the National Power Corporation that owns it. Senate hearings began Wednesday morning on the role the dam’s water release played in the flood.
The region received a record amount of rainfall last week, compelling the dam operators to release enormous flows of water that eventually found its way into the homes of the Lomibaos and ten of thousands of Pangasinan residents. Not releasing the water would have risked overflowing and collapsing the dam, a far greater catastrophe.
“With or without the dam, babaha talaga. Basta sa amin, ginawa lang namin ang standard operating procedure," said Romualdo Beltran, the director for Dam, Reservoirs and Waterways Division the National Power Corporation (Napocor), which owns the San Roque Dam. Beltran spoke at a forum on the flood at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus on Tuesday.
Stranded commuters on board passenger buses and and other vehicles wait to be rescued last Friday from the rising flood waters in Carmen town in Pangasinan. AP
Engineering professors at the forum did not question the need to release the water but its timing.
"Why did they have to wait for the water to almost overflow before opening the gates?" Guillermo Tabios III of the National Hydraulic Research Center asked. “Dapat October 4 pa lang, when the waters exceeded 280 meters, nagpakawala na (They should have released water as early as October 4, when the water already exceeded 280 meters)."
Beltran said no one knew that Pepeng would bring a 100 year rain, meaning rainfall that occurs only once every century. The heaviness of the downpour filled up the reservoir so quickly that all six gates of the dam had to be opened.
“Naka-full load na ‘yung planta. Wala talaga kaming magagawa kundi mag-spill and to let the flood flow. Kung iko-contain mo ‘yun, mag-ooverflow," he said.
Trapped residents stay on top of a roof in Carmen town Friday as lingering typhoon 'Pepeng' submerge many portions of Pangasinan. AP
Pangasinan provincial administrator Rafael Baraan, in the midst of relief operations in his still-flooded province, lamented the rate of release.
“Sinabi naman nila na they will release water by Thursday afternoon. Ang sinabi nila, they would release 2,500 cubic meters per second. Pero by 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Friday, 5,072 cubic meters na ang nire-release nila," Baraan told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.
(They told us they will release water by Thursday afternoon. They said they would release 2,500 cubic meters per second. But by 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Friday, they were already releasing 5,072 cubic meters of water.)
“Why would they release so much water in so little time?"
It’s that same water that Gerald Lomibao and his family had no time to escape. At the time of this posting Wednesday evening, the Lomibaos and four other families were huddled on the second floor of the Lomibao home, with waist-deep water barely moving on the ground floor.– ANDREO CALONZO and SOPHIA DEDACE, GMANews.TV