A Marikeña recounts memories from Typhoon Ondoy's onslaught in 2009
I loved the rain as a child—getting soaked from head to toe in my pambahay while I waited for my fingers to look like prunes. The distinct smell of rain gave me comfort; it always followed a warm meal, like sweet champorado for merienda. As years passed by, it became an excuse to laze around, turn away from deadlines and read.
I was 17-years-old when Tropical Storm Ondoy hit the Philippines. I was a freshman at my dream university; at that point, I never truly experienced any kind of loss. With the help of old blog posts, I started remembering everything again. It all began one Saturday morning.
It started raining early in the morning. I didn’t know that a typhoon was going to hit the country because I slept early. My father took my mother to work—they rarely left the house on weekends—leaving their three children at home with our kasambahay.
I heard Aling Mely shout. The rain was already inside our house, and it wouldn’t stop. I would learn later on in reports that Typhoon Ondoy unloaded a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours. The electricity went out, and we were all starting to get worried. We brought up our appliances, food and clothes—whatever we could salvage in the short time we had. We settled in one room and waited for the nightmare to end. I always considered our home a place of refuge but, this time, it was different.
At around five in the afternoon, I went down to find that floodwater had already submerged our first floor. Looking out the window from my room, I could no longer see our gate. From afar, I saw the McDonalds sign and vehicles afloat. I could see a stream of filthy, muddy water everywhere. I vividly remember thinking about the scene in Titanic where Jack drowns.
Families were separated, mine included. My parents were trapped; they were a 15-minute car drive from our house. Roads were blocked and all cars were at a standstill. With our phones trickling out of battery, we could only stay updated through the battery-powered radio. Few messages from my Mom and Dad could go through. Many stayed put. Malls were being used to shelter those who were stranded, and speedboats were used to rescue families near the river.
My father was desperate and tried to rescue us, leaving my Mom inside our musty, old car. I couldn’t imagine the guilt they felt because they couldn’t be with us. My mom texted, “Papunta na si Papa diyan. Lumabas siya ng car, naglakad siya. (Papa’s on his way. He got out of the car. He walked.) We love you so much. Take care.” I started crying. We begged him not to go since it was getting dark, but he didn’t receive any of our messages since his phone’s battery died. We found out later on that he stayed on a footbridge with a number of strangers-turned-friends and slept there. He used a kind man’s phone to let my Mom know he was safe.
It was around midnight when the rain stopped, half of our house was still underwater. I was ridden with anxiety and couldn't go to sleep. I listened to our radio and was consumed with heartbreaking news: babies in orphanages in danger, people who were missing, lolas and lolos at the top of their roofs for hours. FM stations stopped playing music; instead, they helped people relay messages to their loved ones. I turned it off and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up at seven in the morning to the familiar voice of my Mom. The car was nowhere in sight so I knew that she walked. I went down and saw that the water was still knee-deep. I waded through it and couldn’t help but cry seeing the damage the typhoon left. Our furniture and appliances were afloat; my parents’ wedding album was destroyed; our white walls were soiled. I opened the gate for my mother and she assured me, “Andito na’ko, anak. (I’m here, my child.)”
We decided to go to my Lola’s house in Cubao, a 30-minute car ride away. We walked through waist-deep floodwater, something I never thought I'd ever have to do. We left a sign on our gate saying where we were headed for my Dad, in case he showed up. A car drove by, inside was a couple my parents met the day before. They assured us that my Dad was safe, and they saw him 30 minutes before. We thanked them and my mom, in the middle of the road, broke down. “Safe ang Papa niyo, mamamatay ako kung mawala siya. (Your Papa’s safe, I would die if he leaves us.)”
We walked for about an hour until we arrived at the LRT Station. We found a compassionate tricycle driver who brought us to our Lola’s house for a few hundred pesos. When we reached our destination, our car was there and so was our Dad. He opened the gate and we all embraced him. We were all crying as my Dad assured us, “I’m okay, we’re all safe now.” Meanwhile, my Mom hugged my Lola and cried out, “Ma, sira na bahay namin. (Ma, our house is destroyed).” I have never seen her more vulnerable than in the arms of my grandmother.
Lola cooked food for all of us and we all sat in one table and realized that we were all together. We were finally safe, and the horrible nightmare was over.
It took a while to get used to the rain again. In the first few months, I would wake up to light showers and feel a sense of panic. It took weeks to get our house back in shape; many things were lost in the flood. For months, I would smell a mix of mud and floodwater wherever I went. Commuting to school was impossible, with most jeepneys and tricycles wrecked from the flood.
For a few months, I would hear countless horror stories. A bus from my high school returned from a field trip to find dead bodies splayed on the ground. A children's party occurred at the fast food chain near my house and people were trapped inside. Death was everywhere; I could smell it, I could feel it, I could see it.
More than a decade ago, our lives were interrupted. We were met with reality—that nature gives and takes away. That you can prepare for years and still never be ready. That home is not a home without the people in it. We were left unscathed, by the grace of God, only with poignant memories that have become part of the fabric of our lives.
Photography Elisa Aquino
Art Alexandra Lara