Everything happens for a reason and it’s a good thing my Tita Lou (Auntie Lou) went to run a few errands in the early AM. Jeff and I planned on going to Bulacan to visit Jeff’s family which is about 2 hours away from Cainta. My Tita Lou was to drop us off at the Cubao Bus Station around 9am that morning, but she had been running late. We had Bangus (Fried Fish), Eggs, and Pan De Sal (Sweet Dinner Roll) for breakfast and watched a little TV as we waited for my Tita Lou. Time went by and it was already 11am. The rain was pouring heavily, and the loud noise against the roof sounded as if we were sitting amongst a giant audience in an opera house. It wasn’t going to stop, so I started to worry if we’d be okay taking a 2 hour bus ride to Bulacan. As we waited we decided to pack some of our things in plastic bags for our trip to Bulacan. Suddenly, we hear the doorbell ring profusely. We ran outside with our backpacks on our backs and the rain water had reached the door of my Tita Lou’s SUV. She yelled, “We cant go to the bus station, it’s flooded up to the knees!”
I could barely hear her speak, so she said she’d call me as soon as she got home. Her house was just a block away down the street of Brookside Hills Subdivision in Cainta, Rizal, Philippines (View Larger Map), so within 10 minutes I called her house. The phone is dead. I looked at Jeff sitting by the front window, “The phone is dead, I guess let’s just hope the power doesn’t go out,” I told him sadly.
GOOFING OFF BEFORE IT GOT UGLY
Jeff and I were shocked and couldn’t believe how fast the water rose from when it started about an hour ago. From all the stories we’ve heard from family, we figured that sort of thing happens often during rainy season, so we played in the rain for a little bit enjoying the kind of floods we don’t usually get in California. We saw neighbors walking in the knee deep flood down the street, the *Paja (Bicycle Transport) biking along, and kids playing in water which used to be a flat concrete street. We took a few videos of ourselves goofing off in the water and little did we know what would happen in just a few short minutes.
We started getting cold from being soaked from the rain, so we went back inside the house to change our clothes and unpack our backpacks. As I walked towards our room, Jeff decided to sit back by the front window to watch the water rise. I followed him and we both picked our own spots of where the flood water used to be. More and more the water kept rising and fast. Nothing came to our attention until I opened up the front door. Right away, I said, “Jeff we need to do something!” In a slow panic, we both weren’t sure what to do. I just witnessed the water slowly seeping its way through the door. Jeff and I have never been put in such a situation that neither of us have ever prepared for. A sudden thought came into my head that right before I left for this trip, my little brother told me to watch that last episode shown on Spike TV of “Surviving Disasters.”
HOW WE BLOCKED THE WATER
I left to the back of the house to tell Mona (the caretaker) about the water coming inside. As soon as I told her, Mona and I went to check up on the leak. From the minute I left the front door to get Mona and came back, the water rose up inside the house at about ankle high. Wow, I thought we definitely would have to think fast on this one. I wasn’t sure where Jeff had gone, so I ran and found every towel in the house I could find to block the cracks in the doorways. I yelled, “Jeff! Where are you?!” Since the water kept rising, all the towels were getting wet, so I kept rolling up more and more and made a small Levi. The rain started to suddenly roar with stronger wind and rains, so I yelled, “Jeff! Where are you?!” I walk back into our room and I see Mona unplugging all the electrical appliances and finally I see Jeff in the room moving all of our things up higher away from the floors. “Jeff! We have to stop the water from coming inside! Hurry!” I showed him the door, “Oh Shit!” he says. Still in a slow panic, we thought for a second what in the heck are we going to use to block the water? We looked all over the house for anything that can help because we sure weren’t going to find any sandbags laying around we couldn’t even find a rice bag in all places. We quickly ran around the house scouting for things to block the door. When we both came back to the front door we had a pile full of blankets and pillows. As I made the Levi stronger, Jeff starts to place things up higher from the ground. We moved photos, books, files, electronics, the gas tank, and anything else that could be saved or was hazardous on higher grounds. The funny thing was I saw Jeff rummaging through his boxes and suitcases for something and he found a pair of board shorts. “Stace put your swimsuit on, well dry faster with our swim gear,” Jeff says. I laughed and he said, “What? I’m serious!” I tried looking for my bathing suit, but all I could find were my bright blue and orange water booties that I just bought from Target 2 weeks ago.
WATERFALLS GUSH INDOORS
We suddenly hear, “Ay! Naco! (Oh my Goodness!)” Mona yelled and we hear a splash. Jeff and I both looked at each other. Uh oh… that didn’t sound too good. We both run to the back of the kitchen and see the water gushing down filling up the kitchen floor like a waterfall. Jeff runs to the back door and sees a ton of huge empty water jugs floating. He quickly filled them up with the flood water on the ground and used them as an extra Levi device to slow down the water seepage in the doorways. It was a great idea, so Mona and I quickly followed his lead and started to block the front doorway as Jeff did the back. By that time, the water was up to my thighs. We did this for about 5 minutes and I hear the doorbell ring. My Tito June and my cousin are at the door. “Darn, I say, all this work to make a Levi, now the water will get in if I open the door!” Jeff, Mona, and I remove all the bottles, towels, and pillows we crammed by the door in order to let them in. My Tito yells, “It’s the same in our house, but this house is in a much low-lying area as mine, so we have to get going. We’ll swim and walk to my house, Hurry okay! Let’s go!” I thought, wow I cant believe this is happening, we really have to get out of here.
ARGUING IN THE MIDDLE OF A NATURAL DISASTER
Jeff asked me if I wanted to bring my backpack. I quickly hashed back at him, “No! I don’t care about those things, we have to get out of here! Those things will slow us down!” Jeff says, “Stace, if you’re not bringing yours grab this Lowepro backpack, it has my camera in it, so I can carry the computer inside my Timbuk2 Bag on top of my head.” At the time, I was so pissed off at him. I couldn’t believe we were arguing and in the middle of a huge natural disaster. At a time like this where the water is rising and rising faster than we can even think, he still wants to save his computer! I yelled back, “Jeff! Leave them there it will hold us back! We need strength to get to the other house!” He wouldn’t budge, so I quickly strapped the backpack on and headed out the door. I heard my Tito June yell, “Mona! Let’s go! Forget about your stuff!” I was first out the door, Jeff behind me, and then my cousin, Tito June, and Mona alongside him.
HEADED STRAIGHT INTO THE FLOOD
We all braved the cold, brown, muddy water. In my mind, I thought of the town’s dirt, sewer, trash, and mud were in this water, but it was our only way out. I tried to reach the ground, but sadly being 5 feet tall, I wasn’t able to. I looked at the rest of them behind me with a pause, and my Tito June yells, “Hold onto the gates and the fences, you should be okay!” I hung onto the gates left and right using them as monkey bars as we moved forward. Thankfully, every home in the neighborhood had their own gates, so I was able to use each one of them through. When there were no gates, I used the plants. Since the wind and current was strong enough to carry me away, I had to hold on tight cutting my hands from the thorns of plants. My Lowepro backpack was pretty much in the water and I felt like it was holding me down. I saw Jeff a few feet behind me walking through the water with his bag over his head. I yelled out to him, “I cant swim with this on me!” I waited for him to reach me, so he could grab the backpack and hold both bags on top of his head.
HESITANT TO MOVE FORWARD IN THE RAIN
I was free with no baggage and moved on forward. From time to time, I would look back to check up on Jeff and the others. I stopped at the end of the street corner and there were no more gates or plants to hold to, so I paused for a minute. What do I do now? I looked at Jeff and saw him walking on top of garden plants with huge wide eyes holding bags on top of him like he was in the military. I laughed at him. I yelled out, “What are you doing up there?!” “I’m using the plants to get through!” he says. My Tito June gets closer to us and yells, “Walk in the middle, it’s higher ground!” Jeff walks ahead of me and I still stood there hesitant because of my height and the current of the water. I was afraid my mouth would touch in the filthy water. I was nervous. Jeff was getting further and further away from me. I yelled, “Jeff! Jeff! JEFF! JEFF! Wait for me! I’m too short!” He turns around, “Come on babe!” I turned my back towards the waterway, kicked my feet in full gear, and let go of the plants. When I felt I got to a higher area, I flipped my body around and was able to stand. I waded through the water and caught up with Jeff. “It’s easier to run and jump, than walking through!” I say in a better mood. “I can’t with these 2 bags I’m holding,” Jeff says.
SAVED A BLACK LAB
On our right I see the black lab still in his cage walking in circles and the water is up to his chest. Oh no! I thought, poor dog! The cage was on stilts so it was about 6 ft tall. I asked Jeff if I should let him loose. “I dont know,” he said. We both turn to my Tito June and the others who were further down the street behind us to ask. They couldn’t hear us and we had to hurry, so I waded over and opened the gate. The lab struggled to climb up the gate, not knowing what to do. I was guessing this probably is the first time he’s ever been in water. Oh poor dog, I thought, “Come puppy! Come! Follow me!” I nudged him a little into the water. He suddenly realized he knew how to swim and swam towards his family’s house. I really wanted him to follow me, so I followed him, “Wait! Come this way, follow me!” He was too far away and I hear Jeff yell, “Come on he’ll be okay!” So we both started wading back into the middle towards my Tito’s house.
FINALLY AT MY TITO’S HOUSE ON SOMEWHAT HIGHER GROUND
We met up with the rest of my family and the water was up to my chest inside the house. Everything was already floating on top of beds, couches and tables. The kids were huddled in the right corner and a few of them were still stacking more and more things up higher. It was My Tita Lou and my cousins, CJ, Justin, and baby Iris. I stood on top of a chair with them and could not believe how fast the water kept rising.
For about 15 minutes, we were standing around in the house, stacking things up higher, and hoping for the rain to subside. Jeff was at the front door of the house watching the rain and I kept calling him to get out of the water. “You’re going to get sick. You can get hypothermia,” I said. He came over to me and we stood there not knowing what more to do. The more we waited, the more I got nervous.
WILL THE US EMBASSY HELP?
“We have to do something, I can’t stand here and wait,” I whispered. “What can we do, but wait for the rain to stop,” Jeff says. I hesitantly said, “We have to call the US Embassy. They can get us out of here.” I wasn’t sure if I was being selfish as to get only us US citizens and not my family, but I figured if they come, they aren’t going to leave everyone else out. It was our only option left. Jeff wades over to where our cell phones were and takes it to the back patio. The water was so high, that the rain would splash him and the phone, so he climbed up the gate to get leverage. He dialed and dialed his parents in Oregon, his Auntie Josie in Bulacan, and anyone that would answer the phone.
PHONE CONVERSATION BETWEEN JEFF AND HIS MOM IN THE US
Finally, his mom answers and Jeff begins to yell, “The water is up to my chest and the rain wont stop. Call the US Embassy to get us now!”
“Don’t worry Jeff, it happens all the time,” his mom says in a calm voice.
After persuading her to call the US Embassy, his dad grabs the phone out of her hands. Jeff continues to persuade him as well, and quickly his dad understood.
“Keep on higher grounds, and we’ll call the US Embassy.”
HOPE FINDS US
When Jeff came back to tell me what happened over the phone, I laughed. Out of all people, I thought his mom would freak out and panic. We waited and hoped that something better would happen. My Tita Lou grabbed bananas, suman (sweet rice dessert), rice, water, and beef soup with cabbage from the kitchen. Before the major flooding had begun, she had set the table for everyone to eat lunch, but quickly threw them on top of the fridge when things got hectic. We were all nervous, so it was difficult to eat, but we all tried to stuff ourselves as much as we could for sustenance. My Tito June and my cousin came in the house from outside saying, “Jan na lang tayo sa Mrs. Cruz. (We’ll just stay there at Mrs. Cruz)” Mrs. Cruz lived in a 2 story house across the street and her 2nd story floor hadn’t been invaded by water yet. My Tita Lou said, “How will we get across? How about the baby?” I looked around the house and said, “We can use the couch, the tire, and the cabinets to float there.”
We slowly gathered our important things such as cameras, laptops, dry clothes, food and water, and one by one we used the couch and a tire to float across the street. The current outside of the house was a bit strong, so Jeff and my Tito June safely lead each of us across the street. As for Baby Iris, her mom put her in her pink baby bath tub and put a blanket on top of her head. She floated along with my Tito June to get across. I remember this clearly because I was right behind her on a couch with one of the dogs and I desperately wanted to take a photo of how cute she looked. We all got onto safe ground on the 2nd floor balcony of Mrs. Cruz house watching the rain and muddy water. There were a few neighbors in the room and on the balcony, so it was a bit crammed, but no one cared because we were all glued to watching the water slowly creep into the balcony. For a few hours, it rained and rained, sometimes it wasn’t as hard, but it never stopped. We were able to relax again because even though it kept raining, it never got into the house. Some of us changed into drier clothes and we also ate the left over crackers, candies, and chocolates that were kept away from the flood. Jeff and I were standing on the balcony watching the flood and he began to shiver. He was in the water longer than I was, so I was worried he would get hypothermia. I gave him a new shirt I found inside the room that was luckily in his size.
SAVED ANOTHER DOG
The other kids in the room were watching a very skinny, frail stray dog through the window. It was their neighborhood dog struggling on the tip of the railing trying to get out of the water. It was too sad to watch. Non of the others wanted to get near it in case of rabies, so I told Jeff, “Can you get the dog?” He quickly went back in the water and grabbed a piece of thin ply wood big enough for the dog to sit on. We all watched intently in hopes the dog would not die in the flood. He pointed the piece of wood towards the dog and it hesitantly climbed on. We all cheered and he placed the dog on a stable railing away from the rain and underneath a roof. That makes 2 dogs saved for the day.
For hours we waited, watched the rain pour, and glad it never got inside the house. The water was literally just a hairline away from getting into the 2nd floor and it wasn’t until 9pm when the rain subsided.
For about 12 hours in Metro Manila that day, it rained and rained enough to kill 350 people in one day.
We were all relieved and said a short prayer in hopes the rain wouldn’t start up again. As we were finally able to relax, we all tried to find space to settle inside the room. Most of us knocked out on any space in the room we could find, but some of us also couldn’t sleep in case the rain came again, who would alert everyone? We had little water left and a few crackers to share, but we were going to be okay. The night felt long since most of us couldn’t sleep and the room was very damp since the humidity went up 50% because of the large body of water surrounding us. Outside was very still, black, and only a few candles lit from other houses that survived. You can hear frogs everywhere croaking like they were having a big party at 1am in the morning. For a moment, it felt like we were in a swamp in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.