Blast from the Past

(by Ramy P. Madero, Mun. Budget Officer)

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For Mayor Arcadio H. Gorriceta and the people of Pavia, Iloilo, June 21, 2008 dawned like an ordinary rainy day.  Although Typhoon “Frank” has already made a landfall in the Philippine area of responsibility, it was forecasted to hit directly Northern Luzon. In fact, Panay Island was placed under storm signal number one only.

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He got worried however, when he received an early morning phone call from Mayor Juanito Alipao of Alimodian, Iloilo informing that Aganan River is flooding some parts of Alimodian.  He immediately called the radio stations and alerted the people of Pavia to get ready for evacuation.  He also instructed his staff and barangay officials to prepare for emergencies.

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The people of Pavia, however, did not seem to grasp the gravity of the danger because they are used to seasonal flooding.  During rainy seasons they usually experience two or more floods because their town is located on a flat terrain and traversed by two major rivers, Aganan and Tigum.

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This is the main reason why when the flashflood happened most people were caught unprepared.  Floodwaters inundated the municipal plaza and the church with floodwaters reaching more than five feet.  The flashflood started at about 8:00 a.m. and after only thirty minutes, 13 barangays were totally submerged and virtually isolated.

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The floodwaters rose rapidly and the current was very strong.  Uprooted trees and debris brought by the raging floodwaters swept away houses made of light materials – some with screaming family members trapped inside.

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The municipal hall was not spared; electricity and communication lines went dead because the generator set of the municipal hall was flooded, computer sets and documents, including permanent records were destroyed.

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Yet, what hurts Mayor Gorriceta more was not the destruction of government properties but the fact that he cannot respond to the cries of his constituents for help.

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Only the fire truck was available for limited rescue operations because all the ten vehicles of the municipality, including the two dump trucks were flooded.  The Philippine Army sent two trucks loaded with soldiers to help in the rescue operations but they had to quit because the flood waters was too deep and too strong.

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Worse, the floodwaters receded very slowly.  By nightfall the water was still too deep.  Many people remained trapped on rooftops or other high places until the following morning – most of them shivering from the cold and hunger with only rainwater to quench their thirst.

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The waters finally receded at about one o’ clock the following morning and barangay officials were able to rescue those trapped on roof tops and trees.

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At first light of June 22, Mayor Gorriceta immediately brought food to calamity victims.  Relief operations were very limited because many vehicles, fallen trees and debris were blocking the roads.

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Nonetheless, clearing operations were done immediately because private construction firms and developers in Pavia, Iloillo offered the use of their heavy equipment for free.  Not only that, they also sent many of their own personnel and asked for volunteers to help clean the plaza, gymnasium and other public places.

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The outpouring of support from concerned government agencies and the private sector enabled the local government to provide adequate relief assistance to calamity victims.

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The statistics are staggering. Pavia was the hardest-hit town in Iloilo Province by the killer flashflood brought about by Typhoon “Frank”.

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The flashflood affected 89% of families and damaged 45% of houses.  The killer flood caused 11 deaths and 5 persons are still missing. Nine of the eleven school campuses in Pavia were submerged.  More than ninety computer sets were totally destroyed along with hundreds of books and reference materials.

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Many of the key infrastructures, school buildings and facilities were destroyed and millions of pesos worth of crops and livestock were also lost.

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Yet, Mayor Gorriceta found out that the worst flood in the history of their town also gave him the best opportunity to serve his constituents.  The calamity made him a better mayor. It prompted him to act beyond the call of duty and provide what the people needs most: hope in times of despair.

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Barely four months after the calamity the town of Pavia, Iloilo made a dramatic recovery.  With the help of kindhearted persons and concerned government agencies they were able to replace with 90 brand-new complete sets the computers in the schools which were lost in the flood.

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New houses are being constructed with the help of DSWD and the Red Cross and livelihood programs are being undertaken to help victims recover.  Most of their infrastructures are already restored and economic activity is back in full swing.

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Still what made the people of Pavia, Iloilo  recover immediately is their collective desire to rise above the tragedy with unbroken dignity and their mutual intention to help each other.

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The tragedy proved to be Mayor Gorriceta’s baptism of fire and he passed it with flying colors.  His decisive leadership in times of crisis inspired the people to help in the rehabilitation efforts of the local government.

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Like him, Pavianhons have come to realize that indeed the worst calamity offers them the best opportunity to serve their town.

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