Monday, October 5, 2009

White Hair Chronicles XI - Ondoy (Ketsana) and The Age of Stupid

I just watched "The Age of Stupid" last September 24. It is a documentary/ futuristic take on climate change that is more engrossing than Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth". And then on September 26, it was as if it actually happened. Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) poured torrents onto a hapless Metro Manila, deluging us without relent for 6 hours, resulting to the worst floods (I've seen many) I've experienced. This is the age of stupid and we have to learn fast.

I was about to leave early that Saturday morning. But the street was already flooded so I decided to stay home. My son, who was going to attend make-up classes, forgot to bring his lunch money and came back. It turned out to be wise decision. By 11:00 am the water on the street was already waist-deep, and the rains never let up.

My neighbor has moved by then his brand new Pajero to an elevated driveway in the barangay hall across my house. Flood water continued to rise and swiftly crept to the wheels of the Pajero. It was too late to move it to higher grounds because that would mean passing thru already chest deep floods. All the owner could hope for was for the flood to remain at that level.

By noon, the water is already around 8 ft high. And the current was strong. This flood is like no other that I've seen. Whereas before, the flood waters would slowly rise and then ebb, but not flow, as if it was slowly drained out. But this time, the water current was strong enough to move stranded vehicles.

By 2:00 pm, water has started to seep in the second floor of my house. We vainly tried to stack things on top of the tables. The water then was around 12-13 ft. When the flood reached electric outlets, we decided to move next door, where my mother lives. Her portion of the house has an attic, perhaps the floods won't reach us there.

Power was cut off. It was getting dark fast. We had to be rescued quickly before total darkness sets in. But help won't come soon.

Some brave souls decided to use an air bed to take us out of the house. It was around 5:00 pm. We had to go by batches. The first to go were my mom and the kids - my sons and nieces, then ladies - my wife and sister-in-laws. My brother and I carried them piggy back style. But going from the attic to the door meant wading through cold, murky, chest-deep floods, while pushing away floating tables, chairs, TVs, monitors, etc. in near total darkness. And in the little moonlight aided by a tiny penlight, I could see that there were snakes. They were around 10-12 inches long and just about a little finger in diameter, nevertheless, they were scary. I managed to grab a floating plastic flute recorder and swatted away the snakes. I hit around four snakes. It was crazy. This typhoon would put to shame any Hollywood special effects movie.

My brother and I and a neighbor were the last to leave. On the airbed, the rescuers deftly tried to veer away from sharp and pointed edges of the roofs we passed. The flood was already at roof level. They had tied lifelines on the posts. We tugged on the lifelines towards the direction of the higher ground, against the swift current. We passed several houses with people on the roofs begging to be let on the airbed too. But we were already five people on a 5'x6'x8" airbed. And we couldn't risk the airbed getting nicked by the galvanized roof sheets and us sinking to the rushing 15 foot-deep flood waters. After what seemed an eternity, we finally reached higher ground. I was gnashing and gritting my teeth. Perhaps from the cold, perhaps from anger. What stupid thing have we done to deserve this. It was only 7:00pm. It's going to be a long night.

We stayed at my brother's house in the next barangay. My sister-in-law's family is such a nice family. They gladly clothed and fed us. The kids were in high spirits despite the ordeal they just went through. We were thankful we survived. Fatigue and biting cold were not a concern. We were concerned about the others on the roofs we passed by. We were sure many, many more were in far worse condition.

By Sunday morning, the water was gone. It was only then that I discovered that a portion of our adobe wall had collapsed towards the vacant lot next to us. The snakes surely came from that lot. The great flood is over but the cleanup has yet to begin.

It was at that time that I felt I aged a lot overnight. I was soaked in flood waters for a long time, but I felt shriveled, humiliated, and puny against Ondoy.

I am in the age of stupid.

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