Monday, April 27, 2009


THE GREAT TYPHOON OF AUGUST. A typhoon of ferocious intensity cut across Luzon on 31 August 1920, leaving a trail of destruction in Manila and nearby provinces.

The pitter-patter of rain brings to mind a flood of memories from my Pampanga childhood. As a lazy elementary school student, heavy rains were always welcome news especially in the early morning, for they are portents of cancelled classes. My father, an assiduous weather watcher, would tune in to the radio and give a blow-by-blow account of a coming typhoon and the rising signal. Typhoon Signal No. 1 was all it took for a declaration of class suspension, and even if that meant being homebound, we would still take delight in our enforced holiday for that meant hours of comics-reading and other play activities--which, if father allowed it, included taking a rare bath in the rain!

But the onset of the rainy season can both be a boon and a bane for many Kapampangans whose livelihood depends on farming. Rains make green our rice and sugarcane fields, assuring bountiful harvests and profitable yields. On the extreme side, the season also spawns typhoons that can flood farm fields, destroy millions of pesos worth of crops and property and take away lives. It was not too long ago—in September 2007 to be exact—that a trio of typhoons (Chedeng, Dodong and Egay) battered Pampanga, causing damages worth over 102 million pesos. Over 320,000 families were affected and most of Pampanga towns—Lubao, Masantol, Candaba, Mexico, San Luis, Sta. Ana , Arayat, Bacolor, Apalit, Sta. Rita and the capital city of San Fernando--experienced varying levels of flooding. Only two of Guagua’s 24 barangays, were spared of the destructive floods.

Over the last one hundred years, Pampanga has been doused by heavy rains, visited by super typhoons and blasted by 100kph plus gales—transforming the province into a virtual wasted, wetland. Angeles historian Mariano A. Henson has noted some of the more powerful storms and heavy rains that hit the town and their terrible aftermath. In 1871, for instance, on the eve of the “La Naval” festivities, a freakish typhoon blew down thousands of lanterns in the churchyard, snuffed out the lights and leveled the bandstand and decorative arches. The galvanized roof of the Sto. Rosario church was peeled off by the strong winds, and many houses were damaged. It was fortunate that the fireworks and rockets were saved from the storm, as they were scheduled to be lit only the next day.

The “La Naval” fiesta was to be disrupted again and again by more typhoons in the succeeding years. On 14 October 1934, a typhoon with vicious winds lashed at the town shortly after midnight, dampening the celebration. Two years after, it was the same story—a typhoon raged for 3 days from October 9 to 11, spoiling yet again the La Naval festivities. In 1947, while La Naval was celebrated sumptuously, the “Fiesta ng Apu” procession was cancelled after a typhoon hit land at 4 p.m., ravaging the town until midnight.

The great typhoon of 1882 is recorded as the most devastating in the town’s early history, with an unprecedented intensity that caused untold damages to life and property. In 1885, the Taug River overflowed and swept away the town’s 3 bridges. This usually shallow river overflowed with the onslaught of the wet season, and in 1911, it affected the Abacan area. Once again, in August 1919, Taug swelled together with Sapang Balen, destroying the 3 town bridges, previously restored in 1899. Abacan suffered a double whammy in 1929 when two typhoons in early August and September cut across and flooded the area, causing serious damage to the river sector.

In 1947, a post-Christmas storm from the North started battering the town on Dec. 26 midnight, with sustained winds of up to 130 kph. The rains pounded Angeles without let-up until 4:15 in the afternoon and by the time it left, the savage squall had uprooted the sturdy, half-century old chico and tamarindo trees and spoiled the palay stocks of the town. Surprisingly, even with the beneficial fall of rains, the expected “bumper harvest” did not materialize this year. The blame was put on the late typhoons, the damage to farmlands caused by illegal pasturing of cattle and hogs, and the loss of farmhands who preferred to work for American military families.

The wettest typhoons have also been recorded in Pampanga, all in Clark Air Base. In 1986, Typhoon Miding dumped 20.6 inches of rain on Clark within a 24 hour period. In 1966 and 1976, Typhoon Klaring and Typhoon Diding doused the military base with 19.19 inches and 17.81 inches of rain respectively. Of course, these readings are still a far cry from the 1911 all-time wettest record, when a typhoon drenched Baguio with 46 inches of water in just a span of 24 hours.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo changed the Pampanga landscape irrevocably, making more towns prone to inundations. “Alta Pampanga” (High Pampanga), the supposedly-flood proof areas north of Manila have also become vulnerable to “bagyu”. Flash floods have been reported in Mabalacat. Years after lahar choked the river channels, San Fernando started having floods that took longer to subside.While it is said that low-lying Bacolor benefitted from the lahar deposits of the volcano by rising higher, floodings continue to occur in the town.

This year, the weather patterns have gone awry, with rains and low pressure areas coming in early in April. A shortened summer has caused many bakasyonistas to grumble and beach resorts to lose money. When it rains, blessings do not necessarily fall. The passing “April showers” feel more like “April deluges”, but for now, I am not complaining as I am enjoying the respite from the stifling heat. Why, I even remembered a childhood ditty as the familiar patter of rain pounded on my window pane last night: “Mumuran, mumuran, magkanta la ring asan..” (It’s raining, it’s raining, the fish are singing). All of a sudden, I felt like singing under the rain showers—just like in the good old days.

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