September 29, 2009

Typhoon Ondoy (Philippines, Sept '09)


Help for Typhoon Ondoy Victims in the Philippines (Google)
The Philippines Needs Your Help (send relief aid to the victims of tropical storm Ketsana [Ondoy])
OndoyManila - Help for Typhoon Ondoy Victims
List of verified relief centers for Ondoy victims (GMA News)
Tropical Storm Ondoy: How you can help (ABS-CBN News)
How to help Ondoy victims (Inquirer.net)
The Philippine National Red Cross


Please donate to the Red Cross Rescue and Relief Operations, through our local telecommunications companies. Text: Red AMOUNT to 2899 (Globe) or 4483 (Smart). AMOUNT can be 10, 25, 50 or 100.


*****


My Ondoy Experience

Citizens of Metro Manila and majority of Luzon island will never forget where they were when Typhoon Ondoy attacked and caused unthinkable chaos and disruption. I'll definitely remember mine.

Last weekend, our praise and worship team from Bread Of Life Greenbelt was assigned to perform at the ministry's Prayer Mountain facility in Antipolo. This was scheduled last Saturday, around 8am until around 3pm. Our calltime was 730am. The night before, my band had a gig at Off The Grill in Quezon City. There were already reports of an incoming storm, and it was already raining that night, though it doesn't seem to be a potential threat yet for possible floods. After the gig, while taking a breather, I was already having a bad feeling about the weather. I thought of contacting the staff from Bread, and ask if we're still pushing through. When I arrived home in Sampaloc, Manila after the gig, weather seemed to have tamed down. And so, I proceeded and went up to Antipolo via Marcos Highway.

When we were already at the Prayer Mountain, which is approximately 18-20 kilometers up along Marcos Highway coming from the Cainta/Lower Antipolo area, that's when weather began to get nasty. Our worship venue was a convention hall, roughly the size of a movie house. It has glass-panel doors and windows, and there we notice the rain getting stronger as minutes passed, while we were setting up and doing soundcheck and a short rehearsal. Power went out before the service began, but good thing there's generator.

Service still pushed through, despite weather getting worse. We did the opening set, then had breakfast, and then I took a nap, since I didn't have any sleep yet. A couple of hours later, around 1130am, my church bandmate Criss Buenviaje (guitarist of Fairground) woke me up in time for our second set. There I noticed the number of text messages I received, coming from concerned family members, informing me about the worsening weather. Though we're safe and sound at the Prayer Mountain, we can't help but notice how strong the rain and wind were outdoors. And I saw the big trees swaying wildly. That moment, we thought that we'll be staying up on the mountain much longer. After the second set, I went back to sleep.
When Criss woke me up for the closing set, which was around 3pm, that's when I realized how big and awful the storm has become. I received text messages, informing me about how Metro Manila's becoming a flooded mess and telling me to stay put. Bandmates Bobby and Ruth Bagalay (bassist & pianist/musical director) were alarmed when a neighbor texted them, informing them that flood has entered their Marikina home. We can't go down the mountain yet because it was still raining hard and there were reported landslides along the way, so we didn't have any choice. Now we're feeling worried. Plenty of people were stuck at the venue. We were joking that the Prayer Mountain looked like a refugee camp. One moment, I was chatting with our worship leader Lorraine. I remember joking to her, "Kawawa naman tayo." But with a smile, Lorraine replied, "God has a purpose." I can't help but agree. Later, I went back to sleep.

Around 7pm, bandmates woke me up, informing me that they'll be heading the road to check if it's already safe to go down. Good thing a jeepney driver stopped by near the venue, and told us that the road's already clear and it's already safe to go down. And so, we left the mountain 8pm and carefully convoyed down Marcos Highway. I know some of you may think that it might be safer to stay at the Prayer Mountain than to go down the flooded, traffic-laden chaos in the city. But I felt that I'd rather be down the mountain than stay up there. Landslide threats seem scarier. Plus, it's better to travel together with my bandmates, with the worried Bagalay couple wanting to reach their flood-damaged home. While driving, I was tuned in at the AM radio stations, and here I realized the magnitude of this Typhoon Ondoy disaster. It will be a long night...

Past 9pm, we made it down the mountain, and turned right to Sumulong Highway going Marikina. But it was flooded, so we stopped and waited. Later, when flood waters subsided slowly but surely, my Marikina bandmates decided to go through it, since they live in the area. I decided to turn around and proceed to Marcos Highway, which is my main thoroughfare heading home. Turned out, that stretch from the Sumulong intersection up to the flooded area of Cainta became one huge parking lot. I decided to park and spend the night inside my car.

I parked along Marcos Highway near the Sumulong intersection, where a number of nearby restos and stores are conveniently located. I bought my late night liempo dinner, bottled water and juice at Andok's. They forgot to provide me a spoon and fork, so I ate my food with my bare hands inside the car; finger-picking liempo from one plastic bag and eating my packed rice like siopao. I tried to stay vigilant by being aware of my surroundings. There were plenty of people on the streets, some stranded with their vehicles, some walking, and some who seem to be just "looking around" (reason enough to be extra careful). I also chatted with a fellow "traffic victim" who lives at a nearby village, asking him about possible routes, only to find out that I'll be stuck for the night. I spent the rest of the night inside the car, listening to the news on the radio. I was also doing my last rounds of text messages, until my phone's battery finally drained past midnight (plus, telecommunication signals were unstable, so it was hard to send messages and make calls) . I was able to sleep, but I had to wake up every now and then to turn on the engine and the aircon, then turn it off again to conserve my gas.

I woke up around 630am, and the sight I saw was so surreal. The highway is still a vast parking lot, and plenty of people are walking towards the direction of greater Antipolo, all dirty and muddy chest down. They seem to be commuters who walked their way home and waded through the floods. I thought of taking a road trip to Antipolo city proper via Sumulong, hoping to find a route going Pasig/Ortigas Center. However, a portion of Sumulong Highway going up Antipolo was closed to traffic. I decided to stay at a gas station to buy food and check the car. I was also trying to look for a landline, but the phone lines were not working. Past 9am, the sun was showing up, and I decided to drive around and search for possible routes. Flood waters already subsided on the roads I passed, and here I saw the aftermath. I've never seen Marikina so messy. If only my phone still had power, I could have taken some pics. It was unbelievable.

After circling around Marikina, failing to find a way out and not really familiar with Marikina's roads, I stopped by at a mall. I'm glad the cellphone store stalls were open. First, I bought a car charger for my phone, but my car's 12v outlet wasn't working. Then, good thing another store was selling a compatible battery for my phone. Thanks to that, I was able to make calls and send important text messages. I called Criss, asking for help on directions. Criss was with his wife Eula that time, and I guess the timing was perfect because they were at the house of Criss' folks, which isn't so far away from where I was, and they were about to leave going to Eula's home in Montalban. Criss suggested that I take the road going to Batasan/Commonwealth via San Mateo, and he was so kind to convoy me towards that area. Along the way, I see more mud and debris. We even passed through a bridge where the river below overflowed (and it was a pretty high bridge). There was some traffic going towards that route. But when I entered the road and got through the debris, the road became clear and free from traffic. I was able to make it out to Commonwealth Avenue. When I entered Quezon City, I had a big smile. I was like, QC never looked this good! I arrived home in Sampaloc, Manila, free from traffic and hassle, at 2pm. Criss, you're my hero!

When I arrived home, I felt so happy that I lost my tired feeling. It's also great that electric power was restored in our area minutes after I arrived. I had lunch, sent text messages, went online, and took some rest. I went to church with my folks later that night, then proceeded to Mugen for my band's gig. I thought our Mugen gig will be cancelled, plus I had that guilty feeling of playing on a gig and having a good time, while many are suffering and some went out of their way to help those who are in need. But I understand that many Mugen crew members still need to earn a living. Later that night, we had a number of friends and guests who were victims of Ondoy. One spent the day helping people. One friend was forced to move out when his place got flooded, and was worried with his things, particularly his Air Jordan shoe collection. It was a totally stressful weekend for millions of people. But if we can help some people get through all that stress; help them temporarily escape from their worries and miseries through our music, then that would be fulfilling; anything to bring back some smile or to cheer up. Surprisingly, a good number of people still showed up on our usual Sunday night gig.

*****

It was a very long weekend for me. I thought that what happened to me was a major bummer. But what I've gone through is nothing... Compared to fellowmen who lost their homes, their properties, and most especially their loved ones... Innocent victims who died from flash floods and comparable misfortunes... Residents who spent more or less 24 hours on their rooftops, facing hunger, hypothermia, and fear... People who were in the middle of the action; stuck inside their cars which were drifted away by flood, hanging on a tree branch, an electric post, or whatever the can hold on to... Many people are going through unimaginable hardships right now. What I'm seeing in the news reports and the photo and video uploads saddens me. It's heartbreaking.

I feel very lucky and blessed that I'm spared from all that. Now it's time that we Filipinos unite, share, and give all the help we can give. I'm glad that it's already happening, and it's so inspiring to see volunteers helping out. Even the online posts and updates are greatly helping; not only locally, but our messages can be seen, read and heard all over the world. I salute the many pro-active Filipino men and women out there right now.

Let's all help out in whatever way we can. If we can't be physically present on donation centers and disaster sites, we can send our donations to accredited and trusted groups and establishments. It can be through your school, or your parish, or a major business establishment... Sadly, on times of crisis, there are scammers out there who take advantage. Please be careful and be vigilant. Monetary donations can also be sent through our local telecommunication networks. Check out the posts and announcements on Facebook, Twitter, and various social sites (and some of my links posted above).

The big typhoon and flood may be over. But it's not the end of it. There's plenty more to do, and lessons to be learned. Indeed, God has a purpose.