1967 – that was the last year that the Philippines experienced one of the most devastating hurricane storms in Manila and the neighboring towns until 3 days ago. I never imagined my trip back to the Motherland would begin like this…
Everything started out smoothly. I watched Wolverine 3 times on our plane ride to Korea and the flight and food service was excellent. I highly recommend flying Asiana Airlines when you can. After our 15 hour layover in Korea where we visited the neighboring airport town of Unseo, dined on some tasty Korean food, and enjoyed the comfortable accommodations of Incheon airport, we hopped onto our last plane ride that would carry us the last 3.5 hours to lovely Manila. There at Ninoy Aquino International airport, Stacey’s Tita Lou and Tito June were waiting to pick us up. We drove to our place to get settled in and then enjoyed some shopping before calling it a day. The next day we visited another major shopping center as well as the Ayala Museum that displays many historical jewelries and artifacts from the pre-hispanic historical period of the Philippines. After two days of Metro Manila I was excited to visit my Grandma, Auntie, and little Cousin the following day up north in the province of Bulacan. Instead, mother nature decided to pay us a big visit.
Bagyo Ondoy. That’s the name of the hurricane that swept over Cainta, Taytay, Pasig city, and a other neighboring towns. It literally means “hurricane Ondoy”. Its also defined as the worst typhoon that has ever hit the area. From what I’ve heard over 250 lives have been claimed with the numbers still rising and 2 million have been displaced.
Our morning on September 26th, 2009 began as usual – we ate our breakfast and then waited for Tita Lou to arrive and take us to the bus station so that we could proceed to Bulacan. We had heard it raining outside but didn’t know how bad it was until Tita Lou’s car horn signaled us to come out. The water had already reached the foot of the driveway gate from the heavy rain. Tita Lou informed us that the streets were flooded and that traffic and mudslides wouldn’t allow us to go to Bulacan. We had no option but to wait it out. I had initially assumed this would be a typical rainstorm comparable to the wet winters of Oregon. I thought to myself that this will all eventually subside and the water would stop rising but I seemed to have forgotten that we were in the Philippines and this wasn’t Oregon rain. Stacey and I, being the stupid foreigners that we were, looked on at all the locals who made their way through the streets in water that nearly reached their waists. We were unaware at how drastic the situation would truly become. The water kept rising and rising and rising. We went inside and began moving some of our belongings higher up and every time I looked outside the water level seemed to rise up signifcantly. Before long, the water came knocking at the door and began seeping through every crack and crevice in the walls of the house. We immediately began trying to find ways to barricade the entry points – towels, clothes, pillows, whatever possible. All of that was useless as the water eventually made its way through the windows of the house. At that point I finally began to truly realize the extremity of the dangerous situation we were in and that staying there would probably not be the best plan. We began moving our boxes on top of the kitchen table when Tito June and his kids arrived to bring us to their place which was fortunately just around the street. I grabbed my laptop and camera bag and we braced ourselves before we jumped into the river that was formerly recognized as a street. I literally had to carry the bags high above my head through the water as the flood reached up above my chest. I felt like a soldier in one of those Vietnam war movies trekking through the floods. By the time we reached their house I set down the bags on top of a floating mattress and we tried to get out of the water as much as we could. We waited, prayed, and ate the food that was available to give us strength to get through the flood. And the water kept coming. We had no boat, no transport (Tito June’s car was already submerged), and not many other options and so I finally proceeded to begin calling my parents so they could call the US embassy and see if they could get transport to help carry us out. Reception was horrible (Thank You Again AT&T / Cingular) but after climbing up the gate doors in order to jump out of the water, I finally got through after pushing the send button a million times. I remember my Mom’s first words after I mentioned to her that we needed her help to call the US embassy in order to get us out of there.
“Don’t worry Jeff, it happens all the time.”
I knew that floods and rainstorms were common in the Philippines but this wasn’t anything ordinary. I responded, “NO MOM, THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN ALL THE TIME. We need to get out of here, the water is up above my chest and the rain is not stopping.” Then panic from my Mom immediately ensued and my thankfully my Father stepped in to help address the situation and see if they can get transport out there. I spoke with them until I lost reception.
Not long after, we had to move yet again to the house of Mrs. Cruz which was right across the street. Her entire home was also victim to the rising waters except for one room that was higher than the others with a balcony that extended out a few feet above the terrace. I made a few trips back and forth with Tito June to his house in order to try and rescue a few of their belongings. Several of us stayed on the balcony of the room because many of the neighbors had also holed up there to seek refuge. We just sat there and watched at the sad state of the neighborhood. We witnessed one Lola who was on top of the shoulders of a padja transport (bicycle courier) trying to reach the home of her family. I managed to rescue a stray dog who was frantically trying to stay afloat. Luckily the water wasn’t too cold but the few hours that I had spent in it from moving belongings and helping transport people began to make me shiver a little. Some of the locals who were together with us were taking shots to stay warm and invited me over for one and so I drank and made some small talk. I hoped that transport rescue would come but at the same time knew that it was highly doubtful due to the fact that the entire town was submerged in the flood and that so many others were stranded. We sat there on the balcony and waited with all of the others and I prayed that the rain would stop soon.
By 9:30pm we noticed that the water that had reached the tip of the balcony had finally began to subside. It continued to rain but throughout the night we noticed that the water level was dropping. I sat on the balcony most of the night and chatted with Stacey’s cousin CJ. By 7:00 the following morning, Stacey and I finally made out way over to the other house to see how much destruction was created. the water was still close to my waist on street level but fortunately it was gone from the house. Mud was caked on the entire floor of the house and furniture and belongings were soaked and toppled over. Stacey and I began the effort of cleaning the house with Mona, the house maid. It didn’t help that the hose had very low pressure and we had no clean towels. We spent the entire day cleaning and took a walk through the neighborhood later in the afternoon. Roads were covered in mud and sections of the neighborhood that were lower in elevation were still submerged. All the residents were busy trying to clean their homes. I remember one Lola inside of the Sari Sari store who had a distraught look on her face. I went up to talk to her and she told me that 4 of her grandchildren were missing because they had scattered during the flood. It was pretty surreal to know that we were in the middle of this all – this is stuff that I always witnessed on the news but never imagined I would actually experience. Stacey and I grabbed some dinner and then proceeded to meet up with her family to attend Church later that evening.
The following morning we received a surprise visit from my Uncle who transported us to a hotel in a nearby town. We enjoyed the hot running water and electricity and made a run to the nearby grocery store. After dinner we went back to the hotel only to discover that Stacey’s Auntie Dada was waiting for us back at the house to transport us yet again to San Juan, the home of Stacey’s Auntie Stella which was hardly affected by the flood. So again we were on the move, grabbed all of our belongings including the flood soaked boxes of clothes and goods, and made our way over to San Juan. On the way over we passed through Pasig city where we saw a few flood relief locations where lines of people waited to receive food and supplies. We made it to our destination in San Juan and are now up in higher elevation waiting for the next few typhoons to pass through before we proceed on our trip (these should hopefully be smaller). On Wednesday we took the time to volunteer at Lasalle Green Hills school which is near the house in San Juan. It was good to see so many volunteers and so many shipments of supplies coming in.
We are thankful to be alive and happy that we are finally starting to get our belongings organized and cleaned up again. At the same time I have this inner guilt that we just left the neighborhoods that have been affected. We may try to go to the delivery stations so that we can actually pass out food and supplies directly to those in need. Looks like we are changing up our itinerary and not visiting Northern Luzon until possibly in December since landslides pose a danger. Overall we are finally starting to relax a little and enjoy our time in the Philippines and happy to be alive and well.
If you wish to donate to the relief efforts of the Philippines, click here and you’ll be taken to a page that displays various ways you can help. Thanks for the well wishes all and talk to you soon.
After Rain Subsided in Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana)