A Teary-eyed Reunion (A Reflection from the Tragedy of Typhoon Ondoy) by Sam Suarez
It was September 25, 2009. Except for the news about the incoming Typhoon "Ondoy", the day started like any other normal Saturday for us - bring my wife to teach Comm Arts students at St. Joseph's College, and accompany our only child to UST for her violin lesson. Since Ima's violin class was scheduled later at 12noon, I decided to report for work tagging her along.
Rains became heavy on our way to Tondo, and the water inside the OneStop container yard started to rise. By that time, I already received a message that Ima's lesson had been cancelled due to the floods in Espana.
At around 10:00am, the typhoon continued to unleash its fury. According to news reports, the heavy downpour was quite unusual for the last 43 years. Then suddenly I remembered my parent's house in Village East Subd. in Cainta, an actual catchbasin of floodwater in Rizal. I called them up but the PLDT line was busy. I tried calling my brother's mobile phone but to no avail. I hooked up with Joy Caballero, an officemate who lives in the same village. By her own account, water was already one-storey high along the main road, forcing them to move to the second floor of their two-storey house. But ours was a Bungalow-type residence! They'd be trapped inside the house if the water continued its rise. Instead of getting alarmed, I assured myself that they'd be okay. or so I thought.
After ensuring that the cargoes at the CY were protected from the floods and the skeletal team in place, we decided to go home and fetch my wife. Like any other motorists, we were trapped for 5 hours in the monstrous traffic jam due to the flood.
Upon reaching our QC home, I made an attempt to call Cainta and then my brother's phone. It was all an exercise in futility. For countless times, I called up Manila Bulletin where my father is a correspondent for 33 years, only to be just another fruitless effort. Relatives were already texting, inquiring about the condition in Cainta. I felt so helpless. There were no electricity and telecommunications in all affected areas. Media reports were not helpful either. Grim stories by typhoon victims made my sleepless
nights more terrifying. I was totally blind to what really happened to my father and brother. Technology was no match to nature's wrath. Cellphones could be lifesavers only if they have power and signal.
On my bed I prayed the rosary, hoping they'd be okay. Then I cried. Rescue operations never got far as Cainta. I just lost my mom to cancer only a year ago, and I didn't want to undergo the same painful ordeal again. Not yet. I was hiding my tears from my wife and daughter because I had to appear strong for them. "Tomorrow we will see for ourselves what really happened
in Cainta", I bravely told myself.
Next day was a Sunday. All roads to Cainta were shocking sights. Indeed, all hell broke loose when nature's wrath wrought havoc. Houses along Marikina River were literally washed out. People who got stranded were covered with filth and mud, carrying with them whatever possession they could salvage from the flood. All were in a state of shock. Then an MMDA traffic enforcer stopped our vehicle to tell us that Felix Ave. remained impassable. We had no choice but to abort our plan. We went instead to my office at Tondo to see and take pictures of the extent of the damage on the facility. I was already restless. With a new assignment, I wanted to prove my worth and impress my superiors. I wanted to show to that I was always on top of the situation, be it with my professional or personal life. I wanted to be strong in both worlds.
During the mass, the philosophical side of me started to question the situation, "Why is this happening to us?" Having studied in the seminary, I had always showed resilience and courage that make me survive life's crisis. But this time I felt so helpless and weak. In my reflection something struck me! We could always hope! Here I was in front of Christ Who represents hope. Hope is what we need amid this chaos.
Then my phone rang. It was Ynas, our company nurse, who told me that rescue operations had been organized to assist employees' relatives. That was my cue. After I'm done with the clean-up operations and assessing the damage at the CY, I would join the rescue team. At that moment, I feel blessed to be part of the Magsaysay family. Not even multinational companies I know dared to send a rescue team to the inundated towns. Since I was familiar with Cainta, I was designated team leader of the rescue team.
With relief goods on hand, my heartbeat was racing fast as we were nearing our village. First stop was the house of Joy Caballero. She cried when she saw us. I hugged her for she was the only link to my father at the height of the storm. I could sense that her tears were those of relief and joy. Relief for she never thought her family could survive the onslaught of "Ondoy". And joy for she finally saw us again, her Magsaysay family. At that moment, I held back my tears. I hated to be emotional, wanting to
appear strong as ever.
Next stop was my parent's house that became a total mess. The appliances, my trophies and family memorabilia were totally washed out. The old pictures may have been gone forever but the memories remain.
My brother saw me first. His gloomy face was a picture of hardship and hopelessness. I could not blame him. With my mother's passing, he has been living alone with my father. Theirs is not a rosy relationship. During the typhoon, he and my father stayed in the house for two days with waters that went up to neck-deep level at one point. They did not dare evacuating the place because the flashflood was too strong for them to cross the street. I had hoped that they bonded well during the storm.
Inside the dark gloomy master's bedroom, there I saw the frail body of my father. Tears rolled down my eyes. Like the wreckage brought by the typhoon, this once proud reporter of Manila Bulletin looked totally washed out himself. He could barely walk as his swollen feet were under water for two days.
He smiled when he saw me. That was all I need. See them alive. I wanted to hug him but we were not brought that way. So I just tapped him on the back, assuring him that everything would be okay.
Deep inside I know it will no longer be normal for us. Not normal because I just realized that I have more to give. Since my QC house was spared from the flood, I am the only one who can help them. My resources may be scarce but we always get by, although it will not be easy. Tempers are already rising. People are getting sick. The wallet is thinning. Relationships can get sore. I had to be strong for them.
Most oftentimes we complain about our job, money and relationships, but this disaster taught us that there are more important things in life. Those are family, our relationship with God and charity for the less fortunate. Despite our differences, I love my father and brother. When my mother was alive, we shared happy moments together. When she died, we grieved and cried together.
For a family raised through hard work, we learn to be prudent at an early age. I realized it is better that way because it is less painful. While other victims lost their prized possessions due to the typhoon, my parents got nothing to lose. No car, no fat bank accounts, no well-off relatives. Their old house is left standing, but its luster had already faded away when my mother died a year ago.
What we have left is hope.
10/14/2009 03:37:11 pm
The article captures the message of hope when we put all things in God's altar.
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Last September 26, 2009, we all faced the wrath of Typhoon Ondoy and together, we endured in varying conditions. While some of us were lucky enough to be spared, others were not as lucky.
But from out of the disaster brought by Typhoon Ondoy, the best of our Magsaysay People emerged. MPs stepped beyond the imaginable and showed the WE CARE spirit of MAGSAYSAY.
We invite you to tell us your story and share your experiences of survival and triumph after the storm with your fellow MPs through this blog. With your stories, we hope to spread awareness and inspiration.
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