We thought that rainy Saturday will be like any other rainy day at home. Although the rains caused by tropical depression Ondoy had continued unabated since Friday evening, the thought of floodwater entering our home in hilly San Mateo Rizal was unthinkable. But on noontime of September 26, 2009, the unthinkable became a frightening reality.
Anne, our son Joaquin and myself were on our bedroom when Joaquin noticed the wet floor. When I stood up from bed, the water flooding the street has already entered our house. I ordered my wife and my son to remain on the bed while I rushed in the kitchen to shut down the main power switch.
The next thing I did is to open the door to see what has been going on in the neighborhood. Floodwater came rushing in as I opened our main door. With the water reaching knee-deep and seeing our neighbors’ frantic efforts, Anne thought that it would be safer to transfer Joaquin to her mother’s house since theirs is three-floors high. At that point, I remained confident that the floodwater would not go any higher because I believe that we live on relatively high ground. But then I followed her instructions.
Mama’s house is a jeepney-ride away from our house. While negotiating the already flood-covered street in the subdivision, I noticed that water was rising fast and that the current has become strong enough to knock anyone off balance. Upon reaching San Mateo’s main road, I was shocked to see General Luna Highway covered with water as if a wild river with forceful current carrying hard debris like lumber and metal sheets.
While at the corner of General Luna Highway and our subdivision’s main road, a restaurant owner asked us to stay at the second floor of his building. Seeing floodwater emptying into subdivision and the fast-rising water level, I decided to entrust Joaquin with the restaurant owner so I could get back with Anne.
The floodwater in the subdivision was nearly chest-high when I reached our house. Anne gathered everything she can in a huge travel bag. Before leaving our house, we locked all windows since we saw some our belongings were already floating away from the house.
Together with more than fifteen families, we spent long hours watching the completely submerged houses, and the floating vehicles from the restaurant. We prayed that the flood caused by the none-stop rain would not reached us in the upper floor.
But at least in those long hours, we never got us hungry. Aside from the restaurant owner cooking everything that is available in his kitchen, there was also Mrs. Quintos who just came from the market with a week long supply of food which she generous shared to all the families stranded in the restaurant. By 9 in evening, the rain gradually stopped and we were able to go to Mama’s house.
Sunday at 3 am, we decided to check on our house. I borrowed my brother-in-law’s mountain bike while Anne rode the motorcycle with his older brother Tonton. We have to leave the bikes at the village gate since the water on the street was still chest-deep. Armed with a flashlight, Anne and I waded through the cold and murky water despite our fears of snakes and seeing something dead floating.
I fell in distress upon entering our house. The quaint haven where we come home at the end of a tiring day was unrecognizable. It was dark, the walls made happy by colorful artworks were replaced by thick and grayish mud that made our house smell like a septic tank. Our wooden furniture, no matter how heavy were floating like cork and everything we placed on top of tables and cabinets were either broken or had fallen into the muddy floor. The plant life in our garden were gone and our pet cockatiels and lovebirds all drowned. Everything had been inundated as floodwater engulfed our entire house from ground to ceiling.
Later that same day, we started the clean-up. Ironically, water coming from the faucets were hardly available after the flood. It took us a week to at least make our house livable and a month to remove the mud from the furniture and to repair some appliances soaked in muddy water. But the house structure itself needed thorough renovation. So we’ve flown to Cebu and stayed there for three months for a much needed break.
Our drama seems trivial in comparison to those families who loss their homes, swept away by the flood or buried in landslide. More significantly were those lives and family members lost in Ondoy. We’ve lamented mainly for the loss of those that cannot be replaced like the childhood photos, an entire library of Filipiniana books and damaged heirloom items, but we are grateful because much of everything is back. We are blessed because we have completely recovered from that horrific Ondoy Experience.