MANILA, Philippines — It's been a year since tropical storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana) wrought havoc on Metro Manila and other parts of the country but the pain and suffering of those who went through the ordeal caused by massive flooding – losing love ones, valuables, and properties – continue to linger, haunting them no end.
In Provident Village in Marikina City and Barangay Pinagbuhatan in Pasig City – two areas severely affected and devastated because of massive floods – fear and uncertainty still reign in their hearts whenever strong rains come to their area or if ever the weather agency Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) reports of a weather disturbance entering the country, although residents have already moved on and managed to slowly rebuild their lives after the onslaught.
Lyn Pascual, 45, and her 20-year-old son Jerome, who lives at Saint Josephs in Provident Village, told Manila Bulletin in an interview that even though they have already recovered from the devastation brought about by Ondoy, it was not easy picking up the pieces from there on.
Mrs. Pascual, who works at a manning agency in Kalaw, Manila, said all their valuables were destroyed after floodwaters almost reached the rooftop of their two-story house. She added that she, her son, and her husband Jimmy, had to go to rooftop of their house to avoid the rising floodwaters and escaped certain death.
Even though their lives have normalized, they continue to be haunted by the tragedy, especially every time it rains. She said that floods brought about by “Ondoy” was the worst since flooding also hit their area in 1999.
“It (flooding due to "Ondoy") was our worst experience. We thought flood waters will only reach the first floor of our house so we began putting our things upstairs. But waters continue to rise and reached our second floor. We had no choice but to seek refuge on the rooftop,” Mrs. Pascual said in an interview.
Jerome, for his part, said they were trapped for almost 18 hours at their rooftop due to rising flood waters. Some of their neighbors, whose houses were only one-story high and were already submerged in flood waters, also sought shelter in their rooftop and had to wait for flood waters to recede before they can go down.
“We had no choice but to go up (to the rooftop) because flood waters have already submerged our house by around 2 p.m. (September 26). We we're only able to go down the following day after waters receded,” he said.
Rebuilding their lives
Mrs. Pascual said that based on their estimates, more than P150, 000 worth of personal belongings were destroyed in the aftermath of typhoon
Ondoy. To recover from the devastation, she had to secure a loan from Pag-IBIG Fund in order to start rebuilding their lives. She added that some of their personal savings were also used to renovate their house and buy appliances and furniture to replace those that were destroyed.
She said one year had already passed since the tragedy, but the process of recovering from the tragedy was very slow.
Mrs. Pascual also said that they had initially wanted to transfer to Fairview in Quezon City because of fear that another strong typhoon similar to that of Ondoy will hit Metro Manila but the plan did not push trough.
She said her family also decided to stay in Provident Village due to its excellent location and its much nearer to her place of work.
Living in fear
Mrs. Pascual admitted that fear still struck her heart whenever they hear news reports about the entry of a weather disturbance in our country.
She said the sight and sound of strong rain pounding hard outside their house also bring anxiety to her.
But one thing that kept here strong amid the uncertainty is her strong faith in God.
"When Ondoy struck, we were almost hopeless but our faith in God kept us alive,"she said.
"I'm also afraid especially oo the possibility of another strong typhoon hitting our country but one thing that keeps me going is my strong faith," her son, Jerome, on the other hand, said.
Appeal to the local government
Mrs. Pascual has also appealed to the government to continue with the clean-up drive in clearing esteros, canals etc. of garbage and debris to help prevent floods.
"We hope they can do something about this," she said.
When asked if help was able to come their way, she said as far she is considered, the local government was able to send garbage trucks as part of efforts of clearing out their area of garbage and other debris left by flood waters.
Nina Zabella, another resident of Provident Village who experienced the onslaught of Ondoy, recalled how she and her then two-year-old son had to be taken out by laborers who were constructing another home next to their house just to be saved from rampaging floodwaters. She added that what compounded her woes was the fact that her husband was not with her during that fateful day as he was trapped in his office at Hyatt Hotel in Makati City.
“Me, my son and our househelp were the ones at home during that time. I asked him to wait for the water to subside because we might lose communication if he got stranded,” Zabella told Manila Bulletin in another interview.
“We were at the rooftop of our neighbor's house because the roof of our house was too high and was kind of a bit slope. Half of our house was also submerged in water. We stayed in the neighbor’s roof amid hard rains and strong winds for almost 19 hours, no umbrella just insulator from the ceiling. It’s like a car sun visor. We were fortunate there are laborers next to our house who help us moved out of our place from the window,” she said.
Zabella also narrated how she and her househelp had to run for their lives just to save their lives as the rampaging floodwater happened so fast.
She said that all she could do back then was to pray hard so that their lives could be spared.
“All we could do then was pray hard and pray even harder for our lives. I was too scared for my son more than anything. I thought he doesn't deserve what was happening. You know, you wouldn't imagine the gush rage of the water. We we're literally running for our lives. It happened so fast,” she said.
Zabella, who has a journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and works at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), also said that she and her son were fortunate to be alive and only lost properties during the height of Ondoy.
She added that they were fortunate enough to have insured their house before tragedy struck.
She added that her family and friends were also of big help in order for them to recover and start rebuilding their lives after Ondoy struck. In fact, she said, that her husband's grandmother allowed them to stay over at her house from October of last year to February of this year because repairs had to be done on their own house which was destroyed as a result of the flooding.
“We lived at my husband’s grandmother from October to February. We were fortunate that we only lost properties. We were also lucky to have insured the house when Ondoy struck. At the time we applied for the insurance, we got the package which includes flood coverage. Our family and closest friends extended financial assistance as well, which helped a lot since Philams (PhilAm Life) payment came four months later," Zabella said.
“Good thing I had my digital camera with me so I had proof for the insurance,” she added.
Zabella also said that as far as she is concerned, there was no financial assistance or medical assistance that reached them after Ondoy's onslaught. But she clarified that she was only speaking for herself.
"Nope, there was no financial assistance or medical assistance (that came) at least for us from the local government of Marikina City. I can't speak for other victims," she said.
Becoming more vigilant
Zabella said that although they are back to their normal lives, they have become more vigilant by constructing another floor for their house and stocking it with equipment that could save their lives just in case another weather disturbance similar to that of 'Ondoy' will hit Metro Manila again.
“We are back to our normal lives not but we've become more vigilant. We also had our third floor constructed where we stocked our life vests, lifebuoys, waterproof flashlights, extra car batteries, first aid, big ropes, radio etc,” she said.
Provident residents still reeling from Ondoy
Araceli Becker Bumatay, the homeowners association president of Provident Village (St. Joseph), said in a separate interview with Manila Bulletin, that almost a year has passed since Ondoy struck, but some residents in their area are still reeling from the effects of the weather disturbance.
Bumatay, who has been a resident of Provident Village since 1969 and one of the most active members of the community, said a lot of families in their area have not yet fully recovered from the tragedy that hit them when floods waters swept through their area killing some 15 people in the process.
She added that at least 30 houses have been abandoned by their owners choosing to leave the area and find other places to live in because of fear that similar heavy flooding will happen in the near future. Around 100 apartments have also been abandoned by dwellers who opted to leave the village because of fear.
"Here in St. Joseph, we have at least 500 households in our area. After Ondoy struck, there were about 30 houses left by their owners. Some of the owners did not ever bother to clean their houses and opted to find other homes to live in," Bumatay, who is half German and has been homeowners’ association president since 1982, said. (To be continued)
Francis Wakefield, Manila Bulletin