Typhoon devastates a city that should have been safe from floods

Published: 22 December 2011 15:04 CET

Disasters always affect the most vulnerable the worst. The poor typically live in poorly built houses, often too close to dangerous water ways.

In Cagayan de Oro, Typhoon Washi did not discriminate. Many of the people affected by the storm and violent flash floods were from the Philippines’ growing middle-class. They lived in nice homes, close enough to the river to enjoy the view, but far enough away to avoid occasional rainy season floods. Or so most people thought.

Leonilo Casinillo lived in a small, middle-class housing estate in the Lower Balulory barangay (neighbourhood) of Cagayan de Oro. There were 120 homes in the estate; all of them were destroyed or severely damaged.

“The water came at us from both sides,” he says. “The river rose incredibly fast and so it came at us from there. And at the same time it rushed down the hillside. We were taken by surprise.”

Casinillo, like many people in the city, was asleep when the waters rose. “I went to sleep early, but my kids stayed up watching TV and playing on their laptops. When I woke up, water was already on the floor. And it started to rise quickly.”

By the time he had gathered his children, the water was chest high. They climbed out of the window and scrambled to the roof. “We sat at the top point of the roof and the water kept on climbing. It only started to subside at about 3.30am,” he says.

The worst part of the experience, though, wasn’t the water. It was the sense of helplessness. “I could hear my neighbours calling for help. But I couldn’t reach them,” Casinillo says. 11 people from his estate died. Most of them were children.