Lest We Forget: What flooding was like in PH back in the day

It was the year 1972 — long before one of the greatest typhoons to date, Typhoon Yolanda, ever made a landfall in the Philippines. More than 700 people died due to the immense flooding caused by four consecutive typhoons, namely, Edeng, Gloring, Isang, and Huaning, hitting parts of Luzon for around a month. For the first time in history, the country saw what would be one of the most serious and deadly disasters known to man, “The Great Philippine Floods of 1972”.

Calm Before the Storm

Flooding in the early 1900s, although not non-existent, was considered to be quite tolerable back then. During the rainy season, the streets of Quiapo, Santa Cruz, and Tondo, among others, reached up to an ankle or worse, only up to knee-level. This wasn’t a problem in terms of transportation even when motorized vehicles became prominent in the 1930’s, as supplies and goods were able to reach those who are flooded with not much of a difficulty. Canals and sewages were also functional and excess water flow in nearby waters such as Manila Bay were well-constricted.

Then came July 1972. Rains and increasingly alarming floods were already observed by the end of June that year, but beginning that very month, intermittent heavy rains fell unstoppably which created local flooding in Northern and Central Luzon. In a matter of days stretching to more than a month, things went out of hand.

Photo courtesy of Top Gear

Rains, Floods, and Aftermaths

Continuous landfall of typhoons and tropical depressions succeeding Typhoon Gloring (internationally known as Typhoon Rita) in early July eventually brought the flooding to a neck-deep height. Transportation via land to northern Luzon was halted, water levels reached rooftops of residential houses in some areas, and there were shortages in medicines, food, and drinking water. Ninety percent of Manila was submerged underwater, while provinces Pampanga and Tarlac were almost entirely flooded after also experiencing a series of dam and dike failures.

Photo courtesy of Top Gear

In order to deliver food and emergency supplies to those affected, improvised bancas (Philippine canoe) were widely used to cross areas. No light or small vehicles were able to run; only buses and large trucks were used as transportation in some parts of Manila. This continued on for roughly six weeks.

As the typhoons began to calm down, the flooding also began to dry out. Flooded areas were beginning to re-emerge, and the people were starting to reconstruct their homes and properties. However, the excruciatingly long duration of flood left a costly damage amounting up to $180 million, and approximately 2 million people were affected just by Typhoon Gloring itself.

A wake-up call

As it turned out, the 1972 catastrophe was only the beginning. Fast forward to September 2009, Typhoon Ondoy fell upon Luzon, affecting 872,097 Filipinos overnight. In 2013, many people lost their loved ones and properties over the strong winds and sea surges brought about by Typhoon Yolanda.

Comparing the amount of damages brought by the typhoons in the past to now, it appears that what can happen over weeks back then can happen nowadays in just a day or two. With this in mind, it’s as if nature has already given us a heads-up as to what can happen in the years to come.

Filipinos are not strangers to the fact that our country is indeed vulnerable to disasters. Lying directly on the typhoon belt in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, flooding has always been a problem we can never seem to avoid. Decades have passed since the 1972 tragedy occured, and with that, we must have already learned that preparing for a disaster wouldn’t hurt, or at least mitigate damages to life and property.

-- Maureen Kate Basa


Durdin, F. T. (August 1972). Slowly, Painfully, the Philippines Dries Out. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1972/08/14/archives/slowly-painfully-the-philippines-dries-out.html

Gordon, A. H. (1973). THE GREAT PHILIPPINE FLOODS OF 1972. Weather, 28(10), 404–415. doi:10.1002/j.1477-8696.1973.tb00793.x

Ragodon, R. W. (December 2019). What flooding was like in PH back in the day. Retrieved from https://www.topgear.com.ph/features/feature-articles/history-flooding-philippines-a2597-20191225-lfrm.

The New York Times (August 1972). Most of Manila Swept by Floods (Archived). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1972/08/02/archives/front-page-1-no-title-most-of-manila-swept-by-floods-philippine.html

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Wikipedia (n.d.). 1972 Pacific typhoon season. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Pacific_typhoon_season#Philippines

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