Many people remembered Ondoy when Mario came.
No, these are not people’s names but names of weather disturbances that wreaked havoc to the country’s National Capital Region and its suburbs.
Among all flooding and rainfall amount, Ondoy is the current Philippine benchmark whenever heavy rainfall is the topic. Ondoy’s rainfall was at its highest at the PAGASA Science Garden in Quezon City where 454.9mm or 17.91inches of rain was recorded from 8am of Saturday September 26, 2009 to 8am Sunday, September 27. Comparable to a 24-hour rainfall recorded back in 1967, Ondoy’s six-hour rainfall was measured at 13.44inches.
The loss of lives and properties including infrastructure and agricultural lands were massive. If it’s any consolation, people were saying it was a good thing Ondoy happened on a weekend when a majority of people who were affected, including school children, were at home.
No wonder when Tropical Storm Mario or Fung Wong lashed early Friday morning, unexpectedly bringing thunder and lightning bolts and a heavy and incessant downpour, images of Ondoy haunted those who were hit hard by that benchmark typhoon. Ironically, Ondoy was a week short of its fifth anniversary when Mario came.
*Louie’s son *Clay spent the night at his Lola’s home in Marikina. Lola’s home is a two-storey house near the Tumana River. During Ondoy, he slept on the roof together with his Lola and Yaya while his dad, Louie (and their dogs) slept on the roof of his SUV at their house in Cainta.
*Faye, who just gave birth to her second child, a daughter, spent their time on the second floor of their home with her husband, her son and his nanny during the onslaught of Ondoy. When the rains let up, they walked on top of fences to go to a higher place and seek refuge. They spent a few months at Faye’s family home in Rizal while their home was being repaired after cleaning up was done.
“Ondoy brought ceiling-high flood waters into our home, causing us to take refuge in a neighbor’s house opposite ours. The flood rose so quickly, we fled with only the clothes on our back, our wallets which could not buy us any food, and our mobile phones which soon either ran out of load or battery juice.
“We took turns sleeping in a room provided for us by the kind neighbor or looking out the window watching the water gobble up our house — roof and all — in a matter of an hour and later recede inch by painful inch over the following two days and two nights. We were hungry, wet and dirty; worried over our two girls who were stranded in Quezon City; and anxious over our dogs whom we left behind.
“What sustained us were prayers, the first calls from our daughters who assured us they were safe and sheltered, and the usual philosophizing: “It could have been worse” and “We can start again.”
Anne’s son, who has a construction business, asked his men to help wash, clean up, and repair their home. Her doctor-daughter gave them prophylaxis for leptospirosis. Relatives and friends gave generous help including helping out in the clean-up. All their pet dogs survived, too. Almost a year after Ondoy, the ravaged family bungalow gave way to a two-storey home.
Lessons from Ondoy
Louie did not have to worry about floods brought by Mario because his family sold their home in Cainta and they now live on higher grounds elsewhere.
Anne said her family did not just rebuild their house: they rebuilt themselves. They now have an emergency kit on a standby: flashlights, candles, and meds. They always have extra food and rice in the pantry. As a family they have become closer together, grateful to be alive and thankful for surviving the tragedy with everyone all accounted for.
“Our faith in humanity became stronger, as we personally witnessed how the catastrophe spawned heroes, with even victims reaching out to help other victims. Thus, in tragedy after tragedy that has since befallen our hapless country, we as a family have always tried to give from our pockets and our hearts, sometimes till it hurts.
‘All these led to a realization – even the worst of situations has its upside. Tragedy can bring out the best in us – our courage, faith, creativity, generosity, and love.”
Faye learned many lessons from Ondoy. In her words: “Ondoy was a humbling and life-changing experience, because when we have become so jaded with everyday routine, Ondoy taught us that calamities do not exempt anyone – rich or poor, ordinary or well-known people, regardless of our stature in life, anyone can be hit by natural calamities.”
Faye adds: “Ondoy was a wake-up call for us to take care of our environment in our own little way. Live a simple, frugal life and invest in strengthening our faith in God. In just a wink of an eye, we can lose everything including our hard-earned material possessions and this should have taught us not to be too attached with material possessions. Instead, we should simplify our lives and be mindful that everything we possess is temporary. Above all, Ondoy gave us hope. To see smiles on people’s faces despite what happened, seeing helping hands from people of all walks of life showed strength and optimistic outlook in life.”
The Mario experience.
Louie and Clay did not have to experience the recent floods that ravaged Cainta because they left the place soon after Ondoy to live someplace else that is flood-free.
Anne and her family also put up their stuff on the second floor of their homes. After Mario left, she woke up to an organized home, thankful the waters stopped short of their gate and for extra hands that moved furniture and stuff back where they belong.
Faye and family were as fortunate. The flood only threatened but didn’t quite enter their house. However, they now have to move their stuff back to the first floor. Hard work, she says, but still a breeze, compared to what they went through during Ondoy.
All across NCR and suburbs, people were more prepared, fleeing to evacuation centers and other safe places even before the floodwaters rose, ready with extra food and emergency kits, among others.
Mario may not have been as devastating as Ondoy, but this may be in a small part, because people were more disaster-ready. The public has become more aware of the dangers, becoming more vigilant, alert and quick to follow rules of evacuation.
The weather forecasters, too, were more accurate with their predictions because of new and high-tech instruments.
Typhoons will always be here and we won’t be able to do anything to stop these. All we can do is to be prepared and to quickly act to ensure our and our loved ones’ safety. They are, after all, more precious than all our material possessions.
As Anne recalls in her account of her Ondoy experience: “Watching my children sleep hungry while clutching a wallet with a few thousand pesos in it, I wondered: “If only this money could get us a loaf of bread.”
*All names are changed to protect their privacy.
Photos: Provided by the author. Some rights reserved