The impacts of climate change are beginning to be felt around the world. Case studies that identify the immediate causes of disasters as well as their root drivers provide the empirical basis for strategies to increase resilience to climate impacts. Here we present a case study of the city of Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao in the Philippines and its experience with Tropical Storm Sendong (international name Washi) in 2011. We use local key informant interviews from 2014 and secondary sources to identify both the local, immediate causes as well as the more widespread root drivers of the disaster. We focus on two root drivers in particular: informal settlements in hazardous areas and political dynamics based on patronage, which can present risks both pre- and post-disaster. Addressing these root drivers will be important for increasing climate resilience in the Philippines and other countries.