Loren grills Napocor on dam spill that flooded Pangasinan

PNS — Senator Loren Legarda expressed exasperation yesterday that officials and engineers of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) did not follow protocol or use sound judgment in their abrupt release of water from the San Roque Dam at the height of Typhoon Pepeng.

Loren lamented that the submerging in flood water of nearly the entire province of Pangasinan could have been averted had Napocor officials used even “common sense” in safely releasing water from the dam gradually way ahead water level there reached critical level.

The senator stressed during a public hearing she called as chair of the Senate Oversight Committee on Climate Change, on the effects of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, that all dam operators would have to follow a protocol on the safe release of water and in giving communuties to be affected by such a release advanced warnings so people can be evacuated.

Noting the complaints of local government officials of Pangasinan that they were not warned that the dam gates will be opened, Loren said that decisions to release water from dams place lives and properties at risk, thus adequate m,easures, possibly a review of protocol observed in releasing waters from dams should be put in place.

Loren grilled Napocor hydrologist Russel Rigor on why Napocor only ordered the release of water at 12 midnight of October 7 when water was already at 286.25 meters above sea level at the San Roque Dam, already very close to the dam’s critical level of 290 meters.

She said that if Napocor considers the 280-290 meter levels to be already critical, then why was it that the company did not release water early on when water started breaching the 280 MASL level.

Experts had said that at the 280 MASL, water could have been released at 500 cubic meter per second at the San Roque dam, but that the late decision to release water on Oct. 7 caused a ten-fold increase in the volume of water released at 5,000 cubic meter per second, an onslaught that overwhelmed the Agno river system.

Irked by the runabout answers of Napocor officials, Loren ordered the appearance in the next hearing the president of Napocor and the very persons responsible for the release of water.

Loren said that Napocor should have been closely coordinating with PAGASA as to the volume of the expected rainfall from Pepeng so that the release of the water could have been staggered, even in the absence doppler radars.

In opening the hearing, Loren said that Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng exposed how ill-prepared the Philippines is to deal with the devastations caused by natural calamities whose severities are increased by climate change.

“The committee called this hearing not to point fingers, but to use the little time we have to translate the lessons of Ondoy and Pepeng into priority disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures,” she said.

In dealing with future natural calamities, Loren pushed for increasing community preparedness, including the nationwide training of all barangay personnel on early warning, execution and rescue operations. She also pressed stricter regulations in ensuring the safety of public structures like schools and hospitals.

As of Oct. 13, Loren said Ondoy affected a total of 880,175 families or at least four million people in 1,902 barangays, 155 municipalities, 32 cities of 25 provinces in Regions I, II, III, IV-A, IV-B, V, VI, IX, XII, ARMM, CAR and NCR.

The number of casualties from Ondoy had been pegged at 682, broken down into 337 dead, 308 injured and 37 missing. The current number of evacuees inside 443 evacuation centers are 45,129 families representing 216,941 persons.

The estimated cost of damages is P10.4 billion, representing P3.6 billion in infrastructure damages and P6.7 billion in agricultural losses.

Typhoon Pepeng, on the other hand, affected 533,856 families or at least two million people, mostly in Northern Luzon, with the 544 casualties broken down into 311 dead, 185 injured and 48 missing.

Pepeng resulted to losses of P6 billion agriculture and P1.14 billion in infrastructures.