A Drought In The Philippines Just Dried Up A Reservoir — And Revealed A Forgotten, Centuries-Old Town

Published May 6, 2024

About 50 years after it was intentionally flooded, extreme heat and low rainfall have revealed the forgotten town of Pantabangan in the Philippines.

Pantabangan Ruins

RT Films/FacebookThe ruins of an old church from the drowned town of Pantabangan.

A prolonged period of little rain and intense heat in the Philippines’ Nueva Ecija province just caused a reservoir’s water levels to dramatically recede — exposing the ruins of a lost 300-year-old town.

Although the village itself is around three centuries old, it was inhabited into the 1970s. The town’s population was then relocated to make way for the construction of the Pantabangan dam, which has served as the main irrigation and water source for the region ever since. This year, however, water levels at the dam have fallen by roughly 85 feet — more than 20 feet lower than one year ago.

As the water gradually dried up, the remnants of an old sunken church, graveyard, and various municipal structures emerged. The centuries-old town has since garnered significant interest among locals — some of whom have benefitted from this sudden reappearance.

The Lost Village Of Pantabangan Emerges

In the 1970s, the 300-year-old town of Pantabangan was intentionally flooded to create a reservoir. At the time, hundreds of residents were relocated from the historic village to make way for the dam. The village has resurfaced six times since then as water levels receded, but this latest emergence is reportedly the longest in local memory.

Now, many of the village’s former residents have been granted a rare glimpse of their old home.

“I got emotional because I got to recall my old life there,” Melanie Dela Cruz, whose family was forced to leave the town when she was a teenager, told AFP. “My heart was overwhelmed because I studied there, I was even born there.”

The ruins have also attracted crowds of tourists to the region. One fisher, Nelson Dellera, told Reuters that he has begun ferrying tourists to the island for a fee, which has proven to be lucrative for him.

“Back then, I was only earning 200 pesos ($3.50) from fishing, but when the tourists arrived, I’m earning 1,500 to 1,800 per day,” he said.

However, the region also depends on rice farming for income — and the receding water levels are depriving farmers of necessary irrigation water.

How Climate Change Is Wreaking Havoc Across Southeast Asia

Extreme temperatures are impacting more than just the Philippines. All across Southeast Asia, temperatures are climbing as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to school closures and governments urging citizens to remain indoors to avoid heat stroke.

Temperatures generally average in the high 80s to mid-90s Fahrenheit in the Philippines throughout April and May. But the prolonged heat and lack of rain in recent years are unprecedented. In fact, the heat index shows that temperatures have felt as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit at times, when variables like humidity are factored in.

Pantabangan Dam

Susan Corpuz/Wikimedia CommonsThe Pantabangan Dam in 2009.

There are numerous factors leading to the increased temperatures, including human-driven climate change. As a result, portions of the Philippines have seen roughly 25 percent of the rainfall they normally experience. Southeast Asia is also one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the effects of climate change, and the rapid increase in temperature has caused hundreds of millions to suffer.

In fact, a 2023 World Weather Attribution report said this extreme heatwave — a once-in-200-years event — would have been “virtually impossible to have occurred without climate change.”

While some locals may have benefitted from the reemergence of the old town of Pantabangan, the town’s resurfacing is nothing more than a side effect of a much larger problem.

After reading about the reemergence of Pantabangan’s ruins, learn about another sunken town that rests at the bottom of Lake Lanier. Then, explore 13 other sunken cities from around the world.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Harvey, Austin. "A Drought In The Philippines Just Dried Up A Reservoir — And Revealed A Forgotten, Centuries-Old Town." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 6, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/pantabangan-philippines. Accessed May 23, 2024.