But last Saturday, 26 September 2009, we experienced disaster on a scale that we could never have imagined. The onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy (internationally known as "Ketsana") chose no class, no one group of people to victimize. It didn't matter if you were in the more privileged areas of Loyola Grand Villas and Magallanes, or deep within Cainta, Rizal. The water came for nearly everyone.
It is said that this has been the worst flood in the last 40 years, including Hurricane Katrina. It seems almost unbelievable, considering the footage we've seen from the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. But the truth is sharp and painful.
In one of the most affected areas, Marikina, stands a bridge well over 30 feet above the Marikina river. Ondoy caused floods that went over that bridge, as well as floods in other areas that refuse to go down. Water rushed into homes and drove residents to their rooftops, where many still sit and wait for rescue. I can only imagine what happened to those who didn't even have shelter, if they even had a chance at surviving.
Every minute gives birth to so many insane, impossibly true stories, such as those of University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center (more casually known around here as UERM), where water rushed to the third floor of the hospital. The parking lot was filled with oxygen tanks that leaked or busted open, and so no candles could be lit for fear of an explosion. In the middle of the dark, their only source of light was their penlights.
Then there is the story of Corazon Palomar, stuck on the roof of her home in Pasig with thirteen other people. She was 84, and recently had a heart bypass. They were stranded for 2 days, shivering from the cold, beyond parched and starving as they waited for rescue. A neighbor of theirs managed to salvage one hard-boiled egg which all of them shared. Corazon's daughter, Lily, held her mother to keep her warm. Lily didn't partake of the egg, but instead gave her share to the near-hopeless Corazon.
This is the story we hear over and over. The story that we normally never totally relate to, because disasters usually stand at a comfortable distance from us. The story we normally watch on the news, as seen in human interest pieces. But now it's become the story of our brothers, sisters, friends, children, grandparents, husbands, wives, and lovers, if not our own. It's hit closest to home for every single person I know.
The rescue is slow, undermanned, and disorganized. Help is severely needed all over Metro Manila. And yet what is extremely blessed about this most terrible time is that no one is sitting around waiting for someone else to do something. One of the most touching things I've heard is that the Ateneo De Manila University Rowing Team used toy boats to penetrate Provident Village, one of the most badly flooded areas, to distribute relief goods to those stranded on their roofs.
In this spirit, schools and private organizations have been running relief operations and donation centers since Sunday afternoon. Gawad Kalinga has not only evacuated its own, but is reaching out to surrounding underprivileged communites who weren't as lucky to have GK's devoted rescuers. Companies like Petron and San Miguel have lent their choppers for rescue and relief. Philippine Airlines has decided to airlift relief goods for free.
We have local film stars who swam in the flood or used a surfboard in the thick of the storm just to pull people to safety; one even used a couch as a flotation device to aid him in his rescue mission. Real estate powerhouse Divine Lee has committed her time to reaching the poorest ones who were affected by the typhoon, the ones who lost the little they had to begin with. These are also the stories that surround us now, and they are the ones we hold on to for hope.
The tragedy we find ourselves in the midst of is great, and yet the love demonstrated so freely in these times is the blessing we reap. We aren't waiting for answers as to how the 800 million peso budget for disaster relief could have been spent on the President's foreign trips, or how the NDCC ever believed that having only 13 rubber boats in their possession would be enough, even in a small-scale disaster. We aren't waiting on our government to give our people their due.
Instead, we are taking what we have and whatever we can possibly spare for the sake of our brothers. We are on our feet, we are on the road, we are in the water, and we are wherever help is needed the most. We are steeped in the drive of the bayanihan spirit, the love for our fellow man, and we hope that you are too. I ask that you join us in whatever way you can. Your prayers, donations, and participation will go a long way.
Stay safe and dry, everyone. God bless the Philippines.
- For more information on Typhoon Ondoy and to submit names of those still in need of rescue, click here.
- To submit information on missing persons, click here.
- For local donation drop-offs in the Philippines, click here.
- Donate to your local Red Cross today. Philippine Red Cross is also accepting paypal donations through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. (Get started here.) Every bit counts.
- A lot of news has been coming in, for those who want to be part of the retweeting madness, follow me!
- Photo sources are as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. All photos used in this entry are property of their respective owners.