Face To Face With A Freak Storm and Flashfloods: What's It Like

You get used to a lot of strange things when you live in the Philippines, like election frauds in showbiz awards. But nothing prepared anybody for typhoon Ondoy, a.k.a. Ketsana. On the morning of September 26, I woke up and found my room already half-submerged in muddy water; the whole dorm, the compound, even the street outside, were sinking. This was at the heart of the University Belt in Manila, mind you. I thought it would recede in a couple of hours – which is normal here. I was wrong. Meanwhile I had to go out and eat anyway, so I waded to the nearest restaurant, then went to Morayta to pass the time in an Internet cafĂ©. But I couldn’t even cross Recto. Things got worse – quickly.

The whole city is flooded with poisoned liquid, which was actually raging like a malignant river. Hundreds are stranded; some, like me, refused to be. I was slogging happily, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, but without the umbrella, much less the dance moves. But that was peanuts to what happened, as I found out later, to the entire Metro Manila.

The LRT 1 closed operation, and I was glad they re-opened by late afternoon. I rode to Pedro Gil to get to a friend’s house in the Paco area, near Quirino Highway (Figueroa Street, actually), which was elevated. They were glad to see me and equally happy that I was kind enough to swim by the market first. I bought food while the flood level is caressing my nipples, if you can imagine. I spent that night dry and comfortable, fortified with food, listening to dzMM for a blow-by-blow account of the worst flood in nearly half a century, realizing that most of my country men are experiencing the exact opposite. There’s an element of guilt, but also a great measure of thanksgiving.

I returned to my room the next day, and saw that everything I owned were marinated, like chicken wings in soy sauce with calamansi lemons, the entire night. From the marks on the wall, the water level went just a couple of feet shy of the roof. Almost a thousand books and magazines and files – including the only copy of my first novel’s original manuscript – transformed into a mountainous yucky soggy decaying Jabba the Hut. I’m starting all over again, and I’m not the only one.

Thousands of my country men died and lost all they had, but as TV host Boy Abunda memorably said: We have different stories, but they all lead to a single refrain – “Thank God we’re still alive.”

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