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Look: Photos of Old Manila submerged in flood

By Bim Santos Published Nov 16, 2020 4:03 am Updated Nov 17, 2020 3:20 am

Thanks to the tyranny of geography, typhoons have been inextricably linked to the DNA of the Philippines. With the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean serving as a fertile breeding ground for tropical cyclones, an annual average of 9-10 storms cross the Philippines in a year, half of which are often destructive.

For Metro Manila in particular, Nick Joaquin wrote in his seminal book Manila, My Manila, why floods have bedevilled the development area.

"Manila took a long time to make. What is now its ground used to be sea. The sea reached as far as the present towns of Mandaluyong ("a place of waves") and Makati ("a place of tides")," Joaquin wrote.

Joaquin said that diggers in Makati often found seashells, suggesting a shoreline that ran the length of Guadalupe, with the land up north, which is now Quezon City, being completely under water.

"Floods are still a problem in modern Manila because the land level has not risen much since the days when the Pasig delta was a jigsaw of tiny isles," Joaquin wrote in the book which came out in 1990. "The site of Manila was reclaimed from the sea —and the sea is still trying to get it back!"

Through the antique photo gallery of collector John Tewell, we can catch a few glimpses of these flooded chapters in our history from the early 20th century, such as this photo which is said to have been taken around 1914.

Manila street scene after a typhoon, Manila, Philippines, 1914

Tewell, who was a pilot from Kansas, said in an interview with The Philippine Star that he started collecting old photos after he retired in 2007 and moved to the Philippines.

"As I am a visual person, a photographer since the 1950s, I was always pointing in the direction of photography. My wife and I stopped by an antique shop in Ermita in 2008 where I found a complete album of 1930s portrait photographs and I bought it. That started me actively searching for other heritage photographs; I enjoy collecting them and looking at the stories they tell, and beyond," said Tewell.

The photo below, according to Tewell, is a snap of a Manila flood from an album compiled by a man named George Howatt, who worked for the board of education in Manila, Philippines, 1910-1913.

Manila flood, from an album compiled by a man named George Howatt who worked for the board of education in Manila, Philippines, 1910-1913

The photo below is a flooded Manila street after a typhoon around 1905.

Street flooding after a Typhoon, Manila, Philippines, 1905 or before

The photo below is a flooded area of Bilibid Viejo, which is around Quiapo.

Flooded streets of Bilibid Viejo, Manila, Philippines, 1910-1915

 The photo below shows three women in a tub taken sometime in the years 1910-1915.

Manila flood, three women in a tub, Philippines, 1910-1915

The photo below shows a carromata, or a horse-drawn carriage, moving through a flooded street.

Carromata being driven in high water, Manila Philippines, 1910-1915

This photo, a property of the University of Michigan Library Special Collections, shows a flooded street in front of the Philippine General Hospital.Philippine General Hospital, c1910-1915

The photo below shows a young girl walking in floodwater in 1904. Tewell wrote that the top picture, which is the intersection of Escolta Street and Tomas Pinpin, is edited and fake. The bottom photo is the unaltered photograph from the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum.

A young girl walking in floodwater, Manila, Philippines, July 1904

The photo below is taken along an estero featuring houses on stilts after a typhoon on September 7, 1900.

Manila, Philippines, scene along an estero after the Typhoon of September 7, 1900

This photo is reportedly on the outskirts of Manila sometime during the early 20th century.

Flood tide in the outskirts of Manila among homes built on piles, early 20th Century, Philippines

This photo below was reportedly taken in 1936.

Rainy season Manila, Philippines, 1936

The photo below shows a reported rescue on a flooded area near the Philippine General Hospital sometime around 1910-1915.

A rescue on Taft Avenue near the Philippine General hospital, c1910-1915

This photo shows the Bridge of Spain or Puente de España over the Pasig River in Manila during the early 20th century. The bridge connected Binondo and Sta. Cruz with Central Manila, before it was damaged by the flood. It was eventually replaced by the Jones Bridge.

Flood damaged Bridge of Spain (Puente de España) over the Pasig River, Manila, Philippines, early 20th Century.

For more photos from Tewell's collection, you could check his Flickr account by clicking this link.