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A 300-year-old settlement resurfaces as severe drought dries up a dam in the Philippines

A nearly 300-year-old settlement once submerged beneath a major dam in the Philippines has reemerged as sweltering heat and drought dry up the reservoir.

Structures, including part of a church, tombstones and a municipal hall marker, reappeared in the middle of Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija province in March after months of almost no rain, Marlon Paladin, a supervising engineer for the National Irrigation Administration, told AFP.

The area was deliberately flooded in the 1970s in the dam’s construction. But a drought currently affecting about half of the country’s provinces has pushed the dam’s water levels down, according to AFP.

Figures from the Philippine government’s weather agency, PAGASA, show those levels on April 30 were nearly 50 meters (160 feet) lower than normal.

Paladin told AFP that this is the sixth time the settlement has resurfaced since the creation of the reservoir, but “this is the longest time [it was visible] based on my experience.”

When water levels drop, the ruins become a popular tourist attraction, according to AFP.

Like much of Southeast Asia, the Philippines has for the past several weeks been hit by scorching heat, leading schools to suspend classes after temperatures hit 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit).

Although April and May are normally the hottest months in the Philippines, with temperatures averaging in the mid-30s (high 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit), much of the country has seen even hotter temperatures.

In the past five days, the heat index in some areas has exceeded 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit), figures from PAGASA show. Heat index is a calculation of what the human body feels the temperature is like. It takes into account the actual temperature and humidity, which affects the body’s ability to cool itself.

The town of Muñoz near the dam has seen heat index over 41 degrees (106 degrees Fahrenheit) the last five days. On Sunday the temperature felt like 47 degrees (117 degrees Fahrenheit) because of other contributing factors. As of the end of March, drought covered much of northern and central Luzon, including Nueva Ecija province where the dam is located, according to PAGASA.

April has remained dry across the country, with portions of central and southern Luzon seeing less than 25% of the rainfall they should receive at this time, according to the US Climate Prediction Center.

This year, the El Niño climate pattern has exacerbated those conditions, according to AFP. This natural fluctuation comes on top of planetary warming caused by human-driven climate change.

Last spring, several countries in Southeast Asia experienced record-breaking heat well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

A 2023 report from the World Weather Attribution described that heatwave as a once-in-200-years event that would have been “virtually impossible to have occurred without climate change.”

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