On this day in 1991, Tropical Storm Thelma causes severe and massive floods in the Philippines, killing nearly 3,000 people. It is the second major disaster of the year for the island nation, as it comes on the heels of the violent June 12 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
The storm dubbed Thelma (or Uring in the local language) approached the southeast islands of Leyte, Samar and Negros from the east. It stalled there, dumping tremendous amounts of rain on the tiny islands and causing deadly flooding. As this was the first major flood in local memory, the islands were caught seriously unprepared. Fifty-three people were killed on Negros, and on the nearby island of Leyte, the damage was even greater.
In the city of Ormoc, hundreds of people were washed away by a flash flood that caught the residents completely unaware. Even worse were the huge mudslides that buried hundreds of people in small villages all over the island. Rescue and relief efforts were practically nonexistent in the immediate aftermath of the floods because all the roads were impassable until five days later. Furthermore, the island’s main port was completely destroyed by the flooding, bringing the economy to a standstill.
A subsequent inquiry into the cause of the deadly flooding revealed that environmental factors–including recent illegal logging–had played a large role. Large swaths of forest had been cut down to make the way for sugar cane and coconut farms. This did significant damage to the soil and left the land unable to absorb as much water as it could previously. Additionally, logs left in the island’s creeks prevented water from flowing freely in established waterways.
In 1998, President Joseph Estrada made November 5 a memorial day for the victims of this disaster.