Emptiness... seeing humanity underwater...

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"People wade in the chest deep floodwater Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009 in suburban Cainta, east of Manila, Philippines. Rescuers plucked bodies from muddy floodwaters and scrambled to save drenched survivors on rooftops Sunday after a tropical storm tore through the northern Philippines and left 75 people dead or missing in the region's worst flooding in more than four decades. (AP Photo/Mike Alquinto)" (from here)

I haven't settled in yet on my routine: film blogging. My experience last Saturday was unsettling enough, not just for me, but for my other friends who were somewhat stuck between fear and paranoia, unable to shake off their experiences of wading in the flood, and witnessing the city of Manila in complete turmoil. Saturday was in fact the biggest day of the year for me and for most of us who have witness the horror and pain. But look at us, we are still here, I am still here writing a post to tell it all.

WEDNESDAY, September 23, 2009
An grim prediction

It was Wednesday, upon exiting room 307 of the Engineering building, when i exhorted over a group of my Chemical Engineering classmates that my life would change in about 72 hours (that is, 3 days from that day, Saturday, September 26, 2009) for I was anticipating the biggest event that i would be organizing in my entire life --- the PSYSC Science Olympiad National Finals (here) and (here). The Top 20 schools from both Elementary (Grades 5 to 6 or 7) and High School (3rd year to 4th year) Levels from all over the country screened from the recently concluded PSYSC National Eliminations last September 5, 2009, would be competing in the National Finals at the SM Mall of Asia by that time.

FRIDAY NIGHT, September 25, 2009

The half of the PSO team, a small group of four eager college students volunteers from UP Diliman namely Kim, San, Mona and me, and with the help of other eager students, and members of the PSYSC ECAT team, were preparing everything: AVPs to be edited and crafted, certificates of recognition to be printed, practical exams to be arranged in boxes and containers separated per category, questions to be reviewed and discussed, and so on. Each tasks were equally distributed among us, and I was given all the Engineering work. So i worked with the AVPs and all. By 10 PM we were asked to move out of preparation venue and camped out at the Mall of Asia for yet another preparation. I was tasked to leave all Eng'g work and find a taxi. I asked Mona to help me out and we walked in the middle of rain along A. Roces Avenue inside the campus and I felt something bad.

I expressed to Mona my inhibited feeling about the unending rain that began a few hours ago:

"I feel bad about this long and unending rain. I prefer a one time, big time downpour than a slow, retarded heavy downpour. What do you think?" She agreed.

I found a taxi a few minutes later. Kim and San went ahead of us three which included Anacel being our auditor/acquisition/supplies manager, Mona and me. We carried pertinent stuffs such as printers, LCD projector screens, bond papers etc stuffing everything that fitted inside the taxi. We brushed through C5 high way unaware of the building traffic jam. We detoured to EDSA Avenue and went straight to the Mall of Asia arriving at about 1100PM. Maam Rhea, SM Mall of Asia Marketing/Events organizer of the Nido Discovery Center helped us set up the chairs for the venue. We worked 'till 100AM and moved to the nearest McDonald's 24-hrs outlet and stayed there before dawn strikes.

I was busy fidgeting Vegas to finish the AVP for the opening program when my battery died. I suggested that we moved to the nearest Starbucks franchise for the benefit of an electrical socket. We went there but it was closed. Dreaded by a dead laptop and the few ticking hours before the opening program, i prayed hard that i would finish the AVP. And I prayed, and prayed, and prayed that everything would be okay...

The Reckoning of the Sky

I finished the AVP by 7AM, an hour before the Opening program. The rain poured aggressively outside of the venue proper as the program progressed. I assisted Hansel in operating the technical stuffs. The rest of program pushed through, unaware of the coming tragedy, a reckoning of the sky.

-----o - o - o -----
Josette's struggle with the Storm
[adapted from the true story of Josette Ann Baconguis]

Her class ended at around 1130AM, she ate lunch at the UP shopping center wishful to arrive at the event's proper by around 1PM just in time to help out in all things necessary. She waited for a jeepney that would take her to the nearest MRT station.

She was wearing her formal wear. She scrupulously arrange her hair as the rain drenched her umbrella. The jeepney driver, suggested that he cannot take any passengers outside of the campus because the water was rising. Unaware, she insisted and explained that she had to go to the MRT. Beside her was a graduate student with a bruised leg whose destination was Cubao.

The jeepney skidded off unable to contain the accumulating passengers whose eyes were struck with offish oddity. In their minds were shear pictures of Philcoa, the gateway of all commuters to different parts of Manila, under three feet of water.

Water level rose at chest levels.

Josette had this picture in her mind that time, but her spirits were awaken by the necessity of her presence in the event at the PSO Finals in the Mall of Asia. She was very determined to get there no matter what. The woman with a bruised leg, Michel, joined her insistence to find a cab that would take them to their destinations.

Finally, a taxi cab stopped in front of them and promised to take them to the nearest jump off point. It was 200PM, two hours after her lunch. The taxi halted at Central where the flood level was below their knees, enough for them to sally through the clammy waters. Michel hesitated at first sight, her wound, fresh from the surgical knife from her past medical operation, would open up and the risk of contracting the deadly Tetanus virus was high.

As the flood waters went up, they waited for aid, and luckily a private vehicle stopped and fetched them to the nearest mall where the water level had not yet risen.

2:30 PM. They waved for all kinds of vehicle passing through Commonwealth Avenue, and nothing, not even buses or dump trucks were kind enough to let them hitched a ride to the nearest MRT station. Many stranded passengers joined them and waited for a miracle. A jeepney headed to the MRT station offered the empty seats to the passengers on the street. Josette and Michel were lucky to sat on the last seats.


Philcoa - flooded.

By the time they arrived at Philcoa, everything was in chaos. The traffic scheme was jammed, the usual route of the Quezon City Circle's counter clockwise traffic was blocked by criss-crossing buses, trucks, and vehicles. Josette's eyes were clouded with fear. She never saw Philcoa in such a dismal scenery: garbage floating here and there, college students soaked in their school uniforms, horns of cars and medium-weight vehicles clamored in their highest decibels. She covered here ears as she and Michel went out of the jeepney to do the impossible----to walk towards the MRT station two kilometers away in knee-deep waters.

Kim, a fellow friend of mine, described Philcoa as it was last Saturday in his September 27th post on his blog. He wrote with candidness:
"...Philcoa was a scene I thought only seen in movies. It was a picture of a corner of a country subjected to a natural calamity within an economic crisis. Holding on to my wallet instead of trusting the nerve endings of the skin on my butt to assure me of its presence every now and then, I entered the ever-reliable and jam-packed Mercury Drug. The “Closed” sign of the more expensive alternative MiniStop mocked its 24-hour bullshit.

With McDo and Jollibee closed, I moved to look for bread, my heart beating fast out of fear of going hungry. I found one last loaf on the shelf and in true cinematic fashion increased my walking pace towards it. My hand reached for the bread as another lady gestured to take the same. Working my charm, and seeing that she was already holding three loaves of bread anyway, I shrugged my shoulders and tried my very best to look hungry. It worked and I almost died trying to stifle my laughter.

Safe with food, I was hell-bent on and actually excited about walking my way into campus, confident in the Decolgen I bought despite the fever I felt was coming. Hence my disappointment in the relief of finding a Philcoa jeep ready to go when I tried the terminal again." (from here)

The horror was in Michel's face. after surviving a post-bone-tumor-removal operation a month ago, she faced another life-threatening situation upon crossing the shallow waters pilled with floating debris mixed with bacteria-infested canal waters. How could she do it? She looked at her companion , Josette, as she inhaled the humid air, for Josette was strong-willed and courageous, a capacity she needed in times like this. The sole of her shoe touched the brackish flood waters, the wind chilled her. Her blouse was drenched in rain for Josette was the only one carrying an umbrella for both of them.

She did what seemed appropriate at that moment. Slowly, she placed her shoes on the bottom pavement and waved her legs through the ravaging storm waters, and, grabbing Josette's left arm they walked on the drier pavement. They sauntered in disbelief of seeing hundreds of commuters walking towards the MRT station, by that time, the only available transportation to cross Manila.

A man riding motorcycle bypassed the immovable traffic.

Three o'clock in the afternoon, the sky was dark, and the humidity of the air had lessen. They arrived at the GMA-Kamuning station completely damped. They climbed inside the train and waited for a few minutes and finally, Josette arrived at the Taft Avenue station and Michel at the Araneta-Cubao station.

Michel would witness Araneta-Cubao in deep waters. Below is a picture of an Avenue beside the Araneta Colliseum completely immersed in waters.

Note that the water level reached the rooftop of the car.

Josette arrived at the MRT station at about 500PM. Taft Avenue was, for her, the most chaotic she had ever seen. Apart from the accumulating passengers, the flood levels at the base of the station was above chest levels. A group of brave citizens, hand-in-hand, swam across the EDSA Avenue when, suddenly, a big trucked sallied from Taft Avenue sent a wave of floodwater engulfing them whole. Josette, in her conscience, saw the force of nature out of control and the possibility of death. The brave citizens persisted as they gasped from the incoming wave. With arms clasped closer, they moved in a steady pace, summing up their courage, as they inhaled life.

A bus traversing on the flooded streets of Manila sent a wave
as it passes through the Avenue.

In Josette's mournful eyes, she had witnessed the most horrible. After a few minutes of non-stop arrival of passengers, the overpass connecting the MRT station and the low-lying streets of the Taft-EDSA intersection was filled with people. By a singular thrust from the northside, the people on top of the overpass oscilated to and fro, unstabling their positions sending a deadly stampede ten feet from the rising flood waters.

People from the station watched in horror.

The stampede grew at critical heights; and, one by one, people violently fell from the ten-foot overpass plunging into the floodwaters. A shrieking woman, outbalanced from the edge of the overpass, was thrown at backward position landing on the 6ft floodwater screaming for help.

Josette, unable to contain the scene, went back to the MRT Train and headed towards the Quezon Avenue Station. She walked from there towards Philcoa. It was almost dusk, 7PM, and Josette scurried for food at Philcoa. All establishments were closed except MEALS TO GO. They offered her enough food to regain her energy.

Her eyes were almost closed in exhaustion.

And she went by foot to her dormitory from Philcoa, where, upon entering the room, her roommates were there, and she cried peacefully in their arms.


7PM, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009

It was Josette's account of the flood that moved me into writing.

As the PSO closing program ended, the SM Management declared that all roads were impassable. I was clearly spaced out because of hunger and tiredness, and did not heard clearly the news about the flood and how chaotic Manila was. I was unaware of Josette's experience. I suddenly remembered feeling light and dreamy, but i managed to open a web-page FLV movie from ABS-CBN NEWS website explaining the odd phenomenon. I readjusted the video and plug it in the LCD monitor, volume-up the sounds to let the rest of the participants, coaches, parents, advisers, principals, the PSYSC team know the situation outside Mall of Asia.

The Management requested us to stay indoors. They opened the Food court and supplied us with watter and sandwich during the night. They also provided the Nido Fortified Discovery Center and the Planetarium as areas for accomodations.

We stayed there overnight. By 12 o'clock in the evening, the National President of SM went there to inspect us, she gave us Krispy Kreme doughnuts and additional water supplies. I cannot sleep that time trying to find a way to text my parents that I was okay, to send a message to a close friend that I wouldn't be there to bring him a dinner, to tell them that I was not alone but with fifty something people from PSYSC. I wanted to pray hard, the hardest, upon seeing the videos uploaded in youtube and the horror drawn in the faces of my colleagues.

How lucky I was to be there locked from rain and cold.

How very lucky we were!


Everything Calms down

And yet, for there was morning in all days, it simply began after another announcement from Mall of Asia that some roads were passable. I woke up in the middle of the room, napping on three chairs arranged together with my cellular phone ringing. I gathered myself and went to the bathroom.

I slapped my face and washed it in methodical phase, brushed my teeth and went out.

The signal from all networks were revitalized, I sent text messages to important people, and helped out in the cleaning of the venue. By 9AM we had breakfast at Jollibee near Mall of Asia. And from there, we journeyed back to where we came from.

As we passed through the streets and avenues of Manila, it seemed as if nothing happened. Dry pavement illuminated by the sun, a streak of clouds over the horizon. Manila was waking up, i thought. How calm it was! For there was Philcoa, waterless, and EDSA-Taft intersection busy as a bee, and all roads that led us to our destination, were calm, easy, and light.

A total opposite, a mere extension of an illusion that I created in my head.

I was never aware that Marikina City and Rizal were heavily hit, or that my friend, Paul Jordan, grieved for his flooded appartment, and in all this, I slept. I slept without knowing that some people could not sleep at all because of the fear that succumbed them, or the rain, and their cold bodies.

How the Lord must be merciful to all of us; I cried inside out while sleeping.

It happens.