I will never forget Saturday, September 26.
I headed to Gold’s Gym at the Hotel Intercon Makati for a quick workout before starting my lecture to my class of 12 students at the Personal Trainers Course. I left Quezon City with a light rain and the knowledge that Typhoon Ondoy was to make landfall with Metro Manila at Storm Signal #1. I thought it would just be like any other storm. It was raining heavily the previous night but it didn’t cause much concern. We’ve had a lot of storms and the Metro have never really suffered much. It was almost noon when I was able to read my text messages. Students in the afternoon class were all asking if there would be class. I had noticed by then that the sky had turned an ominous grey and rain was falling in sheets. It was when I was on my way to Glorietta when I realized how serious the situation was—people had a worried look on their faces and everyone seemed to be rushing out. I then noticed one of the security guards approach a stall attendee to tell her that establishments could close already. By the time I got to the gym I was feeling a little nervous. My dad was calling me on my mobile telling me to go home already as the streets were flooded and the Marikina River had already overflowed its bank. It was then that I decided to call my boss to recommend an early close for the clubs. We decided to cease operations by 7pm and after making arrangements with the managers of all the clubs, I headed back to the Hotel Intercon. Having done what I was supposed to do, I felt a little relaxed. Luisa and Ella were there and they didn’t seem to be too alarmed in spite of Luisa having turned back on her way to White Plains as the EDSA-Ortigas area was already waist-deep. The only thing that worried me was not being able to attend my friend’s wedding at Sanctuario in Forbes Park due to the rain.
The Longest Ride. It was 2pm when I decided to go home. The ticket line to the MRT had already reached the
stairs and the line to get past the turnstile was so long. I knew then that something was terribly wrong. There was a mob at the platform and train after train that went past was so full. In the meantime, the crowd kept swelling. Afraid of getting an anxiety attack, I thought of taking the bus. Instead, I crossed to the other side to head to the Taft Station to do a round trip. Good idea because the crowd was less and I was able to get a ride on the first train that I arrived. The only mistake was I took the last car which, on its way to the north, became the ladies -elderly-only car which meant I had to go to the second car which was quite full.
I was squeezed at a tight spot near the doorway and the train was so packed. There was no need to hold on to the handrails as pure body friction kept me stable. It was so hot that I could hardly breathe. I could sense as an attack coming so I started praying. Fortunately, it subsided. As it made its way from station to station, for every person that go out, about a dozen would try to get in. As soon as the doors opened, a sheer wall of human bodies tried to cram in. People were yelling as they pushed and shoved while those trying to get out had to make a herculean effort just to get past the mass of bodies trying to get in. It would have chaotic if not for the Pinoy sense of humour that allowed everyone to just take things in stride. Whenever the door opens, people would shout, “Magpalabas muna kayo. Paano kayo papasok kung hindi kami magpapalabas,” or “Pasok kayo ng pasok hindi pa nga nagpapalabas eh.” These naughty statements drew a lot of giggles from everyone which made the ride bearable. There were still a few grumpy ones like a middle-aged lady who kept whining to the guy behind her to keep his distance as she was being crushed. Who wasn’t? The guy retorted, “Pardon me but we both didn’t choose to be standing next to each other.” That shut her up.
It would be the longest and most excruciating MRT ride of my life. One could almost taste the the desperation that ung so thickly in the air. Looking out of the windows, I saw vehicles stuck in traffic on the southbound lanes as floods prevented further travel. Meanwhile, the rain kept pouring. It was absolute heaven to finally exit at the GMA-Kamuning station where I took a 5-minute bus ride to my block.
There was no electricity and it was only when it came back around 8pm when I finally got the news through the internet. What I saw on videos and pictures people had taken totally floored me. It is no exaggeration that I felt so weak up to the next day with the images of houses and people being eaten up by the raging flood waters in Marikina and Cainta. It is no exaggeration to be teary-eyed when one watches a dramatic clip of several people standing on what seems to be debris from their washed-away house being swept by the current of the Marikina River and emerging from under the bridge, only one remains with the rest drowning. Nature had come calling and we were not prepared.
The Days After. I personally knew several people from work who live in Marikina and Cainta, two of the most devastated places. Their stories are heart-breaking and I cannot even begin to imagine the struggle they have to go through to pick-up their shattered lives. All the donations, relief efforts, and goodwill can never be enough to erase the tragedy they experienced. My youngest sister, Balulay and Heinz, had their car submerged as they were caught by the flood in Katipunan as they tried to make their way home to Xavierville. They panicked when the water rose to their car door. Thankfully, strangers were around to help them vacate from their car. The rest of the week, people spoke of The Flood and The Calamity. It was only when one girl from the office, broke down, when asked, “How are you?” did I make full sense of the suffering. “It is so difficult,” she answered.
People have said that Ondoy (international code name: Ketsana) was a great leveler. We are used to hearing about Cainta, Marikina, Malabon, Pasay being flooded. But Corinthian Gardens in waist-deep water? Cars being submerged at the Loyola Grand Villas? And the most stunning of all, a client saying that their house at Forbes Park was flooded. Of course, after all the mud had been washed-off the rich will still get by but not so the rest.
Bayanihan. The tremendous amount of bayanihan that everyone showed was amazing. True to form, Filipinos used every available cycber communication from Twitter to Facebook to Google Maps. Facebook walls were filled with calls to help, status of people that needed rescue, and shouts for people to clear all walls of unnecessary updates. Farmville could wait.
Even before government could organize its relief operations, the sense of bayanihan had taken hold of each and everyone even those outside the country.
For my part, I started calling-on fitness professionals across the country to donate an equivalent of 1 group exercise class or 1 personal training sessions through my Facebook status. It was a call that many heeded. Maria Amor of Exotifit in LA , together with Jeff Samson, organized a dance-marathon to raise funds. Lorna and Judy both texted me with their donations. Marshall and Ruby, PE instructors in Riyadh, said they would be coursing their donation through the Red Cross.
But the most striking thing that came out of this tragedy is our humour. Somebody already posted a video in youtube showing some kids having a swimming competition at the flooded underpass in Recto with crowds lining the bridge to cheer. American Servicemen helping out in relief operations are so amazed how people they are helping still manage to give them a smile and a high-five. It was something that they would never expect from Americans. I think we have developed a built-in humour system as part of our coping mechanism.
Nature Calling. Calamities are never caused by Nature. She cannot help herself. Typhoons have always been part of the planet’s existence. She cannot help herself. Inf act, it is we, humans, that aggravate her. Calamities are caused by human greed and error. Deforestation, wide-scale mining, river siltation, reclamation, and other human activities that destroy the environment cause calamities. I hope we all learn from this.