Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) experience

Hi again, cyberspace...

I don't know if anybody even noticed but I was "virtually" invisible for the past week. Sadly enough, my family and I were one of those badly hit by Typhoon Ketsana (known here in the Philippines as "Ondoy").

The following is a blow-by-blow account of what we personally went through this past weekend. I'll try not to cry. Here goes...

Sept. 26, 2009 (Sat.)
Breakfast - Woke up to a rainy morning. To tell you the truth, I didn't think much of it since we're already in the middle of the rainy season here in the Philippines. But when I peeked out our door to have a look outside, I noticed that water had been slightly filling-up the street and gutter in front of our house. I told my husband that some of the water might seep into the house...and justified this statement by telling him of the announcement in the evening news that it was going to rain throughout the weekend. I was beginning to worry. My husband, always the optimistic one, assured me that there was nothing to worry about.

Close to lunchtime - Our maid told us that water was beginning to crawl into the house. Instantly, I shut down my PC because I had a feeling that I wouldn't be able to do anything online that day. My husband asked me to watch our baby girl and then he went downstairs. He didn't return until 30 minutes later to say that water is still coming in. But he is confident that the rains will stop and that we just needed to wait it out. In the meantime, he and our maid were bringing things from our downstairs storage area, upstairs. Then he asked our maid to bring our lunch up to our room.

Post-Lunch - Hubby went down again after our maid said the water level is now ankle-deep. This time, electrical appliances and some furniture were being brought up as well. I finally took a peek and didn't like what I saw. The water wasn't clear anymore and hadd, by then, risen to just-below my knees (I'm only 5'1"). I have a distinct fear of big bodies of water (having already drowned twice), so it took a LOT for me to help my husband in carrying stuff (both big and small) from the ground floor to the second floor. At this rate, I thought, the water will reach the electrical outlets in no time. So I asked my husband if he could switch off the main electrical fuse, which he was already planning to do at the time.

I called my parents, informing them of what was happening. Told them that I only have a little something left in my cellphone's battery so I plan to save whatever that is left so I can call them again a little later. As it turns out, our cellphone signals would soon become non-existent throughout our whole ordeal.

Noon - Our first floor was completely submerged. The flood had covered about three-fourths of the first flight of stairs.

Through all the drama that happened that morning, I found out later on that my husband saved our neighbor's dog from drowning. But eventually, perhaps due to experiencing too much stress, or from swallowing too much water, it died.

We were only able to keep tabs on our neighbors from our respective balconies. Our neighbors, perhaps for lack of anything to do, were always asking if our Maia was awake and, if so, if she could look outside. True enough, whenever we did bring our baby out on our balcony, everyone would call out to her, sing, clap...and we saw how much our baby loved the attention. She didn't fail her "audience" and happily "performed" by smiling, laughing, and clapping in return. During this time, I was thankful that we were not alone in this and that we had our Maia and neighbors to keep us sane.

As nightime approached, I suddenly remembered that we had a couple of snack items left downstairs...wafers, bread sticks, half a loaf of bread, and two (2) guavas. And so my husband had no choice but to swim again downstairs to get them.

Evening - We tried to savor every bite from the little food supply we had, often sharing. From the panic, we soon realized that we've all forgotten to grab our water purifier. The only potable water on hand were three (3) 1.5-liter bottled-water to be used for preparing my baby girl's formula milk. Since there was still water from the faucets, I instructed that we should put water in containers. I decided that our maid, my hubby and I can drink from these since I know we can all handle any stomach upsets, but not my baby girl.

I never prayed so hard in my life...and so many times in a single day. Fortunately, the hard rains stopped. But it was still drizzling. The candles we have on hand helped us a lot in managing our way through the darkness, what with all sorts of things lying around.

My baby finally was able to sleep. And as I was looking at her, fanning her with the torn cover of one of her baby books, I couldn't contain myself any longer and started to cry. I asked my husband why this was happening to us. I was asking him why no one was coming to help us. I actually asked him this out of desperation -- "Are we just going to wait for the floods to swallow us?"

By 8 or 9 p.m., the water level had already passed the first landing of our stairs. And maybe 3 or 4 more steps, it would've reached us on the second floor. By this time, my husband and our maid have already set up a small mattress on our 3rd floor (attic) and have prepared clothes and some supplies good for at least 2 days. We had no idea how fast the flood will reach us before we can go up, nor how long it will last.

We heard a loud banging coming from our next door neighbor. Turns out they were trying to uninstall their airconditioning unit so the family can have access to their roof, if ever they needed to climb out.

The rains would come and go. Was so tired from all the paranoia and negative thinking...from all the stress. I then fell asleep.

Sept. 27, 2009 (Sun.)
Morning - I woke to the sound of our neighbors asking one another how each one is...who have or haven't eaten...if anyone's sick and the like. Again, from our balcony, we found the whole subdivision to be covered in mud-brown water. The water, apparently, did go down to about 1 foot. So we checked our stairs. Indeed, the water is now again below the first landing. But thick mud was now covering the couple of steps where the water level once was.

We found out that a lot of our neighbors who own bungalow-type houses, were stranded on their rooftops, exposed to all the elements, drenched, lacking any form of sleep. This made me realize how fortunate we still were to have a roof over our heads and running water in our bathroom faucets.

Noon - The rains have stopped. I was still waiting for some kind of help to arrive. Suddenly, helicopters...1...then 2...everyone of us waved our hands up in the hopes that those on board will see there are still people stranded in their houses. We saw a couple of choppers dropping food supply to certain houses in the subdivision. We also soon found out that those choppers also picked up those stranded on the rooftops. I thought, "Good for them." but I was also thinking, will WE ever get rescued?

Pretty soon, marines came in inflatable motor rafts. Didn't do much but scan the area. From time to time, they would answer our questions about what's happening "out there." The news, as it turns out, wasn't at all comforting. Still, they promised they'd come back with supplies.

Next to arrive were the police. They "threw" over our balconies two (2) small bottles of water and a family-sized pack of biscuits (the ration they have set per household). I had to "show" Maia just so they can give us more. It was actually quite effective as the police officers came back to throw us two (2) extra bottles of water.

The first set of Marines did return and, indeed, brought bottled-water and muffins. Again, I carried Maia out to the balcony. And again, they gave us extra. Our neighbors did not seem to mind this. It's embarrasing, I know...but at that point, that we were already receiving "relief goods," I honestly felt like I had nothing more to lose.

Then came members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Upon seeing that we have a baby, they asked if we wanted to go with them. I didn't want to look ungrateful for being asked if we wanted to be rescued...but at the back of my mind I was thinking, "What do you think? Of course, I want to get out of this flood!" But at the same time, I also wondered as to where they would be taking us. One of our neighbors finally asked this. And the US forces said they take everyone to the evacuation centers. My hubby declined. Later on, I asked him why. Deep inside, I knew. But I guess I just needed confirmation and his assurance that we are better off where we are...that, though our ground floor is flooded and though there is no electricity, we still have enough bottled-water and food supply given by the marines/police; we have running water in our bathroom; we can still take showers; and we have a bed...compared to temporary evacuation centers where there are but a few to none of what we still have.

By nightfall, the water level dropped to a couple more feet.

Dinnertime - My hubby woke me up to tell me that his brother, 2 cousins and a friend are downstairs...all soaked in what was now chest-high water. I looked and saw that they brought 2 inflatable rafts with them, carrying food supplies.

As they couldn't get the door to open, they just handed easy-to-open canned goods (sardines, corned beef and sausages) and even more bottled-water through the windows downstairs, which my husband opened. They even managed to tell jokes all throughout, amidst the darkness and the flood, perhaps as a way to get everyone's mind off of what is happening. Even then, I couldn't help but cry...whether out of self-pity or out of pure joy in seeing loved ones, I really do not know.

Eventually, when I was more "together", they offered to get us all out via the balcony. But we decided not to go with them as it was already dark and we didn't know how chaotic it was outside. We thought then that it might not be a good idea to expose our baby to all that. They understood completely. But we didn't let them go without telling them how grateful we were. They left feeling assured that we were safe on our second floor and with enough food and water supply.

Post-family-rescue - We were down to just two (2) large candles. But it was different that night. Though the air was humid and the flood all around was starting to smell...the thought that the typhoon has finally left Philippine shores and knowing that the water level is lowering had enabled us to get much needed rest and sleep. I guess, this feeling was felt by my baby, and she fell asleep much earlier than usual.

From a distance, you can hear a man singing, what I think is, a Christian song. It felt very comforting.

All of us slept through the night.

Sept. 28, 2009 (Mon.)
Morning - Finally, the floods have disappeared. The scene downstairs was depressing. There was mud everywhere...on the walls, the floor, on our sofa, tables. We found our china cabinet and refrigerator lying flat on the floor. Broken glass. Door stuck because it expanded while submerged in flood waters. Our minivan dirty and muddy as well, from top to bottom and inside-out. But if the inside of our house is a wreck, it was nothing compared to the mess on the streets and the whole subdivision.

Sometime during the initial clean-up, my husband was somehow able to borrow a mobile phone and called my parents. He told me how happy they were to finally hear from him, how he heard my father crying on the other end of the line. They told my husband that they will come for us after lunch. But they actually arrived about an hour after the phone call.

I tell you...when I heard my mom's voice downstairs, I called out to her and started crying. My mom, dad and yaya all went upstairs. I was never that happy to see my family. I hugged each and everyone of them. I saw in their faces how happy they also were to see us, safe and sound. But I also saw the horror in their eyes after seeing what happened to our house, and the subdivision we live in. Unlike us, they have electricity and were updated by everything that has been happening via the boob tube. And so, knowing that we were safe after all that has happened in the past 2 days and not hearing from us, has also been very overwhelming for them.

We went home to my parents' house that day. We're still here at my parents' house. My husband took a week off from work and, with the help of some helpers, electricians, carpenters, cleaning people and the like, is presently busy trying to make the house liveable again and salvaging what he still can from the mess.

According to reports, the flood rose to as high as 7 feet in our subdivision. 8, 9, and even 10 feet in other parts of the city and the rest of the metropolis. I never ever thought that I will get to experience this kind of tragedy in my life. I never imagined that I will one day be a victim of a natural calamity...a recipient of relief goods...a refugee of sorts. It was a very humbling experience.

I'm still traumatized. And I'm already very tired from telling the story over and over again.

And blogging about it, I believe, will somehow make me come to terms with what happened. It is my way of "releasing" whatever stress, depression, anxiety, and other negative and toxic reactions from my psyche. I really hope so.

Mama Mia is a 30-something wife; stay-at-home mom to one; blogger; and author of Online Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom (OCSAHM). Learn more about Mia here, or contact her via this page. You can also get instant updates on this blog by following Mia on Twitter @miadsoriano; by "Liking" the official OCSAHM Facebook page; or by subscribing via Email or RSS.
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