In the Midst of Tragedy

Run down of thoughts, mixed emotions…this is what this entry will most likely be.  I want to write about my experience of typhoon Ondoy in the last two days but I find it too overwhelming to be put in words, in a coherent piece. So here’s an attempt. (Pardon the errors, still too tired to edit.)

From Shangrila

Saturday morning, September 26, I left early for my 9 am yoga class in Ortigas. It was already raining cats and dogs but I thought it was going to be just one of those rainy days which I survived over the years. Around 11am, some yogin-friends and I went out for brunch. Still it was pouring—San Miguel Avenue, from the studio’s window view, was ankle-deep flooded already.

Over lunch Trin received messages and calls from her family telling to stay put, as EDSA was already flooded and impassable; Ernest’s flight from Bangkok was even delayed due to bad weather. Oh no, I was part of the organizing team for a training seminar to be attended by foreign delegates. Would their flights be cancelled? How would they manage if they get stranded in the airport? Are we pushing through with the event? Catastrophic thinking filled my head.

One o’clock, two o’clock, the weather wasn’t changing. Two yogins headed home. Trin, Jon, and myself passed time in a café, had super late lunch, and watched a movie. It was really a fun way of passing time in the midst of a typhoon. As we stepped out of the cinema, I got a call from a frantic friend. News on TV, he said, showed our area was flooded already. Another friend sent me a message that a village was submerged, leaving only the roofs of houses visible from aerial view. That triggered my panic for my mom who, 75 years old and physically handicapped, was left at home with our househelp.  For some technical problems I could not get through our phone line so I had to coordinate with my cousin and sister, who lives in the US, to check on mom.

While Jon embarked on his journey back home, Trin and I moved to the hotel to wait for updates (the mall closed by 7pm). The hotel was fully booked (yeah, we thought of checking in) so we just stayed at the lobby where we had dinner.  I kept on telling Trin that having company in times like that makes waiting a lot bearable; in fact, it was enjoyable! Yes, I was so grateful for their company (thanks Jon and Trin!). By around 9 pm, Trin headed home and I moved to the other side of Ortigas to get a bus, the only vehicle I knew that could get through the worst flood. 

To San Juan

Ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, no bus. Checked the nearest hotel, no more room available. I then made an attempt to go through the traffic—baka lang may himala at makalusot ako sa baha. Just before we reached the Rosario bridge infamous for traffic and flooding, we saw delivery vans stuck already so the taxi made a turn right away. Where would I go? I don’t want to spend the stormy night on the road with strangers in the bus station. For all I know one of them could be a holdup guy, I thought. So I asked to be dropped off at the nearest hospital—24/7 security, food supply, and generator. I knew I’d be safe there…but I couldn’t sleep sitting down beside the fountain at the hospital lobby. Besides, the security started giving me that suspecting stare. Past midnight of September 27, I sent messages to everyone I know in the area AND who could be awake at that time. Yogin-friend Jane welcomed me to her house in San Juan (I cannot thank you enough, Jane!).

Nice soft bed, clean toilet and bath, cool room…it was as good as a staying in a hotel room, free at that! Free food as well! Had toast and tea before going to bed. Little did I know that that was going to be my first and (almost) last meal for the day.

Went to bus station at 6:30am, fighting off my catastrophic thinking of what could have happened back home. By 7 o’clock I was on board. I should be home by 8 o’clock at the latest, I thought. The driver and the conductor shared that they were stuck the previous night in Manila and had been on the road since 8am that day. “Uwing-uwi na kami,” they said. With that mindset of theirs, I knew we would get home no matter what. At this time I no longer had network connection.

Then we got stuck in Rosario bridge again. Flood was neck-deep. After three hours, the driver decided to take another route via Imelda Avenue. As we plied along the new route, I saw bumper-to-bumper traffic on the other lane, mud all over the street, abandoned vehicles on sidewalks, and drenched commuters, whose countenance showed hope as they boarded our bus.

By some miracle—as I still did not have connection and later that day I got messages sent to me three to five hours earlier—my sister’s text message got through. My mom was okay, she reported. It was only then that I became peaceful.

To Shambles

We reached Imelda Avenue at 11am…and never moved again until 10pm. Survival instinct told us to conserve fuel and battery so we switched the A/C and TV off; even the engine. Twice it failed to run. Geez, that would be another problem. Lord, spare us please. No food; the only water supply I had was the 125ml left in my bottle, which I took to the studio the previous day. That was roughly 5 mouthfuls for the next 24 hours, that is, if I got lucky that I wouldn’t have to spend another day on the road.

No TV, no cell phone, no connection from the rest of the world. What then could I do in the bus but wait, believing firmly that we wouldn’t stay on the road forever. One day, water would subside. One day, all the cars on the road would either be driven home by their owners or get towed. One day, I’d get home. I felt safe and hopeful in the bus. Hungry, thirsty, tired, yet calm.

It was one thing to see tragedy aired on TV or on newsprint or on internet…and it’s yet another thing to be in the midst of it while things were happening. Babies carried by their parents, aged, pregnant women, children…people still in their office attire…men carrying bags of clothes and food…all wading in flood…in all directions. One teenage guy begging for a piece of candy for his diabetic grandmother…a pregnant woman about to give birth (or had she just given birth?) carried in a padyak to safety…vendors selling cigarettes (whom we asked several times, walang kayong tinitindang pagkain?)…rescuers…men in uniform. Dogs, snakes.

People out of the goodness of their hearts (I’d like to think) kept telling us to get off and start walking because it was impossible for our bus to get through. What for? To wade on neck-deep water? If the bus can’t get through it what makes them think that I could? Did not make sense to me. Only 15 or so of us were left while most of the commuters heeded most people’s advice.

Finally by 6pm, a candy vendor came. I was prepared to thrive on yema in the next two days. Another hour later, a couple came with hot water, instant noodles in cups, and hard-boiled eggs. They were selling these items at three times more than their market prices. They made money that night but I was sure they needed it—they were one of those whose house was wiped out by flood and were staying in a relative’s place.

My friend RMJF articulated this perfectly: why do we know it in our hearts that only the devil sees opportunity in a calamity? …and just when you think that there is no hope you’d be surprised to get help and kindness from a stranger….

And Finally Back to My Sanctuary

By 10pm, the driver decided to brave the flood. Scary really. Would the engine conk out again? Would we get stuck in the middle? Until when?  Sad too. Familiar places–buildings, stores, old houses, old streets, etc.—I used to ignore everyday as I passed by them on my way to work were underwater.

I was home by almost midnight. Everything and everyone in our household was okay, by God’s grace. Phone signal was back to normal and I was just overwhelmed by the messages, though late, from concerned friends from as far as Davao and Bacolod and from people I never expected to remember where I live and actually send me a note. Thank you all.

On my way to work this morning, I saw plastic bags all over the streets, some even hanging from the fences. With that I knew what happened and remembered a campaign launched years ago which goes “Ang basurang itinapon mo ay babalik din sa yo.” We never learned.

I am back to “normal” now but haven’t really processed my experience. Not wholly. One thing is certain though—I know what matters to me. I haven’t thought of how I could help but here’s a link in Jon’s blog for those who want.

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5 thoughts on “In the Midst of Tragedy

  1. chon, i am so glad you are ok, and your mom too.

    We too were pre-occupied with my mom and sister who both live in marikina. my mom’s one-storey home was entirely submerged in water, my sister, her entire ground floor. pinasok rin kami sa bahay ng tubig, but our 4 inches compares shamefully low to the lampas-tao situation of others.

    next time please know that our home is open for you to crash in anytime.

    i cannot believe that it was just the sheer amt of rainfall that caused the flooding… something went wrong somewhere. ano sa palagay mo?

    • Sad for your mom and sister but at the same time relieved that all of you are safe. Thanks Gel for your concern! Will keep you in mind 😉

      I believe that in every situation, life is teaching someone something. It may be an act of God, sure, but people are also responsible for it…sa dami ng plastic na nakakalat after the flood! Naku, huwag natin galitin si Inang Kalikasan! =(

  2. I found out this morning that when power was turned off the night of September 26th, what brought light into our house was the matchsticks in my little altar in my room. That was my household’s only source of fire/light at that moment. Om.

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