Monday, September 28, 2009

Storm Signals

In the four years that I've been living in the Philippines, I've never been so personally impacted by a typhoon as I was by tropical storm Ketsana (known locally as "Ondoy") which on Sept. 26 blew into Metro-Manila wreaking havoc on the city and surrounding provinces.

On the morning of that day as the rain was building I went out to a gathering that was about 12 km from home, not (consciously) realizing how much worse things would get as the day progressed. That understanding sank in only after I arrived at my destination. When I left there a few hours later, the storm was intensifying and areas were flooding, such that what would have normally been a 40 minute ride home turned into a 6 hour odyssey . During that time I traveled by taxi, rapid transit, and foot before I ran out of transportation options about 3km from home. Public transit jeeps and cabs had stopped traveling to my neighborhood due to flood conditions in that vicinity. So there I was, stranded and soaking wet. At least I was able to let my wife Lydia know what was going on via cell phone before losing the signal. Mobile phone service was not restored until this morning.

I took refuge in a shopping mall, unsure just how or if I would get back home that night.
While at the mall, it was interesting to observe the demeanor of the people there who were blithely shopping and apparently having a good time despite the worsening conditions outside.

Finally, I scored a taxi driver who for an extra P50 was willing to take a chance and try to drive me to my residence, or at least as close to the area as possible. I live just a short distance from the Marikina River which that day had overflowed its banks, and as a result, just a block away from my condo, the streets were impassable. However, we made it all the way home without encountering any problems, which of course was such a relief that I was happy to pay the additional fare.

It wasn't until the next morning that the extent of the damage from the storm and resulting inundation was starting to become evident both in terms of lost lives and property. Through now, the reported toll of casualties is still rising and at this writing, is over 100. And no wonder: According to Pagasa, the official weather agency for the Philippines, the typhoon dumped the equivalent of one month's rain in six hours.

One of the hardest hit communites was Cainta, where many of Lydia's family members live. Most of Lydia's relatives there, as is the case with the other residents in that town, had severe water damage to their properties. But the most unnerving incident was that involving one of her her sisters and brother-in-law who were missing until this morning. They had been flooded out of their house and made a harrowing escape from the rising waters, with the sister's godson actually carrying her on his back. Another sibling was stuck for 24 hours in a public transit jeep. A sister-in-law and her son were trapped in the attic of their home also for that same length of time.

So whatever discomfort and inconvenience that I personally encountered in the storm would not have happened if I had exercised common sense and had just stayed home. In that regard whatever troubles I experienced I brought on myself. Such was not the case for Lydia's family members and the hundreds of thousands of other victims who suffered in varying degrees partly as the result of the ravages of nature, plus the Philippine government's failure to properly plan ahead for such a catastrophe (think Katrina in the U.S.), and from the tragic misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


CebuAngloBoy said...

Glad to learn you got through it OK. I was wondering about you & your family as we watched the coverage here. It is so sad, so many lost so much.
It amazes me, the Filipinos are such Strong & happy people to endure so much and still smile and break into a "pogy pose" when caught by the TV news cameras as so many do.
They are now reporting a loss of 112 in our most recent reports with speculation the number will increase.
Take care and be careful!
May God bless you & your family and shower you with his blessings now instead of rain.

Secular Guy said...

CAB, thanks for your kind words and thoughts about us. Our condo unit was damaged by slow but persistent leads that are still dripping.

Your right. Filipinos' resilience in the face of adversity is remarkable. Alas, if they would only channel that strenght towards improving the society here.