Three residents of Bayawan City in Negros Oriental are missing and presumed dead, while thousands were evacuated to safer grounds due to massive flooding in the city proper yesterday.

Acting police provincial director, Supt. Alet Virtucio, said the identities of the three persons presumed dead has to be verified yet as police, military and civilian volunteers braved heavy rains and strong floodwater currents to prioritize the rescue of residents trapped in their homes.

The flooding was caused by more than two days of heavy downpour, that caused the Banga River to change course and overflow to many barangays in the city, especially Villareal, and sealed off access to Bayawan proper, rescuers said.

At around 10 a.m. yesterday, rescuers and private vehicles could not reach the city proper since the river course shifted to Sitio Plywood, Barangay Ubos, then on to the diversion road and lower Natit-an, and finally to Villareal and Barangay Tinago, city police chief, Senior Insp. Nenette Vibares, said.

Residents said this is the biggest flood in many decades in their area.

Thousands of evacuees are in the city gymnasium, the Internal Business Center, St. Augustine Academy campus, the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Catholic Church and the Negros Oriental State University campus at the boundary of Villareal in Bayawan City and Brgy. Caranoche in Sta. Catalina town.

Bayawan parish priest Frank Bomediano said that except for the 6 a.m. mass, all others were cancelled yesterday since only a handful of parishioners came to Church due to the flood. He said the parish is helping out by cooking rice, provided by the local Social Welfare Office, to be delivered to the evacuation centers.

The Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Council initially sent 45 sacks of rice to Bayawan since the city government has enough foodstuffs for distribution to the evacuees, its director, Adrian Sedillo, said.

Gov. Roel Degamo requested for two Army helicopters for rescue and distribution efforts. Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade, said the Philippine Air Force based in Mactan, Cebu, has committed to deploy two UH-1H helicopters to Bayawan City, but could not do so because of zero visibility.

Degamo said he hopes the rains will stop today so immediate relief and rehabilitation efforts can be implemented.

Meanwhile, landslides were reported earlier in Villareal and Pagatban in Bayawan, and in Barangay Alangilan, Sta. Catalina, but these had been cleared as of press time and the highway is now passable.

In Siaton, the Canaway and Siaton rivers are closely monitored to alert residents at risk.

The spillways in Malaunay and Ticala in Valencia town were also impassable as the water level of the Okoy River rose due to the continuous rains. Residents in the river banks of Valencia and Dumaguete City have been alerted and local government units are on standby for pre-emptive evacuation.*JFP