Posted by: neblinoso | September 29, 2009

Typhoon Ondoy

Our day trip to central Luzon planned for Saturday ended up turning into an over-nighter.  A group of us met at my hotel around 8AM and headed to Nueva Ecija to have lunch with Tara’s parents.  Along the way, we stopped to pick up some breakfast at McDonald’s and await the arrival of another coworker who was meeting us there. We jumped out of the van equipped with umbrellas as the slight drizzle turned to a downpour. 

IMG_3583Two hours later our driver dropped us off at the hardware storefront owned by Tara’s parents, and she led us through the store, into an open atrium, plants hanging from the grated roof and into a spacious kitchen. A doorway at the back of the kitchen led to an outdoor patio with a serene looking pool, complete with a small waterfall.  A ten foot wall of bushes enclosed the entire space.

IMG_3585After being introduced to Tara’s parents, we sat down to a lunch of pork, crab, grilled fish, shrimp soup and, of course, rice. We were also served one of Tara’s favorite dishes – a sticky rice mashed up and formed into cubes, smothered in a sugary, caramel-like sauce with fried coconut shavings. 

With full stomachs, all eight of us packed into an SUV and took a short ride to the “rest home”, which was used by Tara and her sisters as a playhouse when they were little.  It was a small, two-story circular building peaking out from the trees and bushes landscaped around it.  A separate building housed the restrooms, complete with showers.  Annexed to the back of this was a small kitchen area with a large, round table.

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We climbed to the second floor and ducked inside as it was still raining.  Different chairs lined the walls and a mattress with pillows lay in the center of the floor.  Eric set up the music and most of the others plopped onto the central mattress for a game of poker as we had brought the chips along.  We spent about an hour there until the driver returned to take us back into the city. 

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Throughout the day we had been getting text reports from various other coworkers that some were experiencing flooding in their homes.  We knew when we left that morning there was a typhoon in the area, however, we were reassured it would not affect our trip and that even though some ankle-deep flooding may occur, it was the wind that caused more problems.  Another coworker texted Tara to let her know he’d been stranded at a gas station for much of the afternoon due to flooding in the area, causing major traffic congestion. 

We decided to make our best effort to return, not fully aware of the calamity Ondoy was causing in metro manila and the surrounding suburbs.  Diane had relatives nearby and so we set out to drop her off as it was along our way.  As we drove through each village, we noticed how the rice fields had turned into lakes.  After about a 45-minute drive, we came to a dead stop as the truck in front of us made a hard u-turn.  About 500 ft in front of us, a group of official looking men had blocked off the road as it was impassable due to the bridge being flooded from the river below it.  Just over the bridge was Diane’s relatives.

We turned around to head back the way we’d come only to run into another road block.  A tree had fallen across the road we just traveled not 15 minutes ago.  The driver took another detour as more and more texts were received about the rising waters in Rizal, Marikina, Pasig and other nearby neighborhoods.  We learned that due to the flooding of the roads and all the cars stuck on them returning to the city was not possible.  Our only option was to return to the rest home to spend the night and hope we would be able to go back in the morning.

It was dusk when we arrived back at the rest home.  We made ourselves comfortable while the groundskeepers made trips to and from Tara’s parents house to bring us pillows, blankets, extra clothes, and an assortment of toothbrushes, soaps and shampoos.  They even brought a cooler of drinks and a complete dinner of rice, pork chops and some leftovers from lunch.

Shortly after we arrived, the electricity went out shutting off the fans and lights.  We lit candles and had a battery powered lantern to provide some illumination.  We also had a battery-powered radio that we huddled around, hungry for any information on what was happening.  Periodically, i could understand a few words, but mostly i just kept asking what they were saying.  Reports were that flooding had risen to nine feet and many people were now on their roofs in hopes of rescue.  I later found out that an entire month’s worth of rain fell in just six hours.  Rescue attempts were delayed by the impassable roads and continuing rainfall.  Amidst getting texts from roommates and relatives about the rising water, many who were with us remained in good spirits.  We played more poker by candlelight until dinner was brought and afterwards curled up on the mats to sleep. 

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I was awakened in the morning by a scream from Laura.  “Allie,” she hissed, “there’s something flying around in here.”  I sat up groggily and told her not to worry and to go back to sleep.  I settled back down pulling my sheet over my head.  Turns out it was a bat.

When we got up, it was bright and sunny outside.  The calm of the morning gave me an eerie feeling knowing the devastation not far from us.  We had a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, boneless fish, spam and rice.  The driver arrived at 8AM with reports that roads were clear.  We gathered our belongings and piled into the van, anxious to reconnect with family and see just how bad things were.

Debris littered the road and clung to fences, making it evident just how high the water had risen.  Billboard ads hung loosely, ripped down by the storm.  One structure was completely bent in half.  The closer we got to metro manila, the more we saw people’s belongings lined up on sidewalks in hopes the sun would dry them out. 

One by one we dropped off each person, some to their homes and some as close as we could.  I felt completely helpless, knowing some of them had lost everything in the storm.  I only lost the comfort of sleeping in my lush, hotel apartment.  Frankly, i’ve spent harsher nights camping in the woods.  I didn’t spend the night on the roof, cold and wet, wondering if anyone was going to come rescue me, or stranded in my car unable to get to my family.  I didn’t have family members who i couldn’t reach or didn’t know where they were.  And I still have all my possessions, safely tucked away in my house in the States. 

My heart hurts for these people.  They are not just random people in a country far away, but people who’ve become my friends.  News reports have labeled this a natural disaster, of which this country hasn’t seen in nearly 40 years.  Many have likened it to Hurricane Katrina in the sense of how unprepared people were to deal with this much flooding.  I had friends affected by Katrina.  They too were forced from their home due to flooding and had to wade through muddy and diseased waters, not knowing if they would be able to return, or in what condition it would be.

Laura and i offered out hotel rooms to anyone who needed a place to stay, but most were anxious to get reconnect with their family and assess the damage to their homes.

Even our office was affected, and as a result we were told not to return to work until Wednesday.  We asked if the driver would mind stopping by so I could retrieve my lappy power cord as i had left it on Friday.  Of all the weekends to forget it….  Luckily the building was open, however there was no electricity and therefore the elevators were inoperable.  I climbed the ten floors to our offices and knocked on the glass doors to arouse a sleeping security guard.  He came over and held open the door after i showed him my visitor’s pass.  “Ma’am, there is no power.” he said to me quixotically as if wondering how i made it to this floor.  “I know,” i said, “i had to walk up the stairs.”  “Oh,” he replied.  He escorted me to my cube, and i was able to get the power supply. 

By the time we returned to our hotels, it was around 2PM. My first order of business was showering.  My feet were stained brown from having wet flip flops due to all the rain and puddles i had tromped through.  I spoke with my family later that evening and they had not heard of any reports of this storm.  

I spent most of Monday in my hotel room, only leaving for a short while to have dinner, I returned to discover the internet was down due to aftereffects of the storm.  In a way, i feel bad that i cannot share the same experiences as those who have lost their homes and been displaced, but at the same time, i feel blessed and undeserving of the safety and protection granted to me. 

There is another storm on its way.  I am hoping it won’t be as tragic as Ondoy.  Though i know i have been a part of history, i wish it was for a happier reason and that celebration could replace mourning.

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Responses

  1. Allie, Jeremy and I read about the storm and thought of you. I am so sorry to hear about the destruction and hardships experienced by your friends. I am however happy to hear you are safe.

    By the way, I think it is wonderful that you are blogging while you are there. You have an incredible talent for writing, and I look forward to reading about your adventures every day!

    • Thanks T! I appreciate the thoughts and thank you for your readership! I hope i can keep it interesting. Miss you guys! 😛

  2. Allison, I read the news of the flooding and will pray that all can find peace and safety! i thank God you are ok. It does bring back memories of our friends john & suzie. it has been cold and rainy here but not life threatening.
    JOY is here safely and is a blessing to be with.
    I miss you very much, but your adventures sound great! keep in God’s word.
    May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.
    Love Mama B


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