Thursday, August 9, 2012

Me and my dog

Me and my dog, Lougee (a cross breed between a Labrador Retriever and a Dalmatian). She eats cooked food. No leftovers. She eats a variety of meats but her absolute favorite is spaghetti or anything pasta. We've survived a fire and Ondoy (my apartment went under water). She's one tough dawg.

Bravery, tomfoolery and absurdity in a time of calamity

Bravery, tomfoolery and absurdity in a time of calamity
by rick olivares

There’s a row of men slumped against the wall of the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady Parish here in Industrial Valley, Marikina. Their boots are caked with mud and oil. Their faces reveal the cumulative toil of stress, the lack of sleep, food, and bewilderment.

“Where do you start?” asked one man who took a puff from his cigarette.

“It starts here. In this block. Inch by inch. Street by street.” I replied.

He nodded in agreement as the perspective cleared his mind. He took a sip from the soup I brought over. “Tara,” he commanded. About a dozen men stood up and began the long and arduous process of clearing the road of mud and detritus. And there was the matter of unclaimed vehicles that were lined up across the road. Unlike Ondoy that caught many unprepared, this time most car owners took precautions. In our area there were about a dozen vehicles that were submerged and looked like submarines bobbing up and down during the flooding. Now parked along the road in odd positions, they were brown and dirty from the floodwaters.

The tricycle driver who I wrote about the other day has that glazed look in his eye. After the initial high waters receded they cleaned out their home of all the mud and debris that was washed in. Less than 24 hours later, (around 4am Thursday) they were back on the streets with the floodwaters having reclaimed the area.

When the waters went down for a second time, they quickly went about cleaning their home. The tricycle driver lives with about another eight families in a small patch of land in a street that is lined with big houses. They live at the end of a cul de sac. Behind them is a creek that empties into the Marikina River.

During cleaning operations, the richer side of the street showed their disdain for their less fortunate neighbors. They used high-powered hoses to wash their yards and driveways of the mud and garbage. They all ended up in the tricycle driver’s side of the road.

The less fortunate residents couldn’t help but notice this. “To us, we’re trash,” opined one lady. “But when the river overflowed, their homes were filed with trash too.”

The tricycle driver and his neighbors put what they can in trash bags. What doesn’t fit was thrown into the creek. Some lessons are never learned.

Walking inside the main hub of Olandes, there’s a sentiment of anger over local government efficiency. The mayor has yet to show himself in any of the affected areas save for Provident Village.

Earlier this morning around 5am there was a police snafu as a truckload of PNP soldiers arrived to help in the rescue operations. Five heavily armed policemen climbed aboard an inflatable dinghy to rescue people still trapped inside Olandes. One resident dryly remarked, “Why do they need to carry their weapons? This is a rescue operation not combat.”

The policemen paddled for about 300 meters before their raft struck a sharp object. It quickly took water throwing all five cops into the cold and dirty water. That part of President Quirino Street that is the main thoroughfare that leads to Olandes was easily six to seven feet deep. Some of the policemen weighed down by their gear nearly drowned. Their colleagues who were on the safe side of the street swam over to help them. It was a comical sight -- the rescuers being rescued by their own.

The sight wasn’t lost on the residents who felt abandoned. It took some effort to convince some of them that the local government was spread thinly along so many affected areas.

But the fact of the matter is there is a failure of leadership on so many levels including the barangay captain. Marikina’s former mayor sent over packed meals. Some residents look at the gesture as one with political overtones. The incumbent will be challenged by the former come election time.

The rising waters caused a variety of problems aside form the obvious damage to homes and property. Snakes were seen swimming about in large numbers. One huge sawa made it’s way inside a flooded home and was beaten off by someone who stayed behind.

The high roads were packed with cars without any semblance of discipline. Should a general evacuation be sounded including the higher areas a massive traffic jam would undoubtedly ensued.

Even with the evacuation order that was sounded at 2am in the morning, many refused to leave their homes. When the waters reached roof level, one man bravely stayed out of fear of looters. When he felt cold and needed a nicotine fix, he dove into the water, swam three hundred meters to the unaffected part and bought a cigarette. When he was done, he swam back towards his home. His recklessness drew chuckles from those watching.

There was unbelievable tension early in the day as the evacuation sirens sounded in the low-lying areas. The rolling thunder didn’t help the situation. One worried looking senior citizen wondered aloud if this was the end of days. One drunk said that if this was indeed the end then maybe it was best to take a shot of some vodka. The old lady wasn’t sure whether she wanted to whack the man with her umbrella or laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Around 6am, the rain fell. But no one budged. Everyone stood by the water’s edge. Less than 10 minutes later, the rain stopped. And there wouldn’t be another drop for the rest of the day (at least until the time I am writing this which is close to 6pm in the evening).

By Thursday noon, the waters receded and everyone came rushing back in. Mud or not mud they scampered back to their homes.

Said one resident of Olandes, “If I was renting a place here I would leave forever. But this is my home. I am never leaving.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Marikina flooding: At ground zero of Olandes

At ground zero of Olandes


Right before Wednesday noon, the rains stopped for a good one hour. The waters in the Olandes area (next to the road leading to Libis) subsided and the people quickly made their way back to their homes. The water levels weren’t close to the Ondoy levels but it was pretty high enough.

I guess we as a people should be thankful (for what it’s worth) that the flooding happened during the daytime and not at night. Think of the difficulty of getting out safely with no light.

I went down the area to organize a soup kitchen with a friend of mine and one of my kids. I sought out one of our former househelpers and we quickly got hold of the barangay captain. Once that was out of the way (and while waiting for the soup to brought to the area), I went around to get a closer picture of the devastation to this community that is perennially hit by water overflows from the river. There were a few stalls in the market place were already open selling what food was not spoiled by the flood. Many were cleaning their homes. The water was at most seven to eight feet high in some areas and much higher in places closer to the river.

Through the devastation, some people managed a pained smile. Others were more practical as they were wondering how to bounce back from all of this. It took a while to bounce back from Ondoy and one wonders how long so this time around?

One man was crying out at the top of his voice. Not every one can handle this. I can totally empathize with him over his loss.

Eventually I found my way to the riverside. I saw people cleaning their muddied appliances and furniture in the light rain. A few paces further, I saw some people toss the trash from their home into the river! Incredible. Some people never learn!

Dismayed and unable to do anything, I trudged on further until I cam to the abandoned tricycle terminal. I saw this janitor fish desperately trying to reach the water. I wanted to go over and give it a push but the mud was a foot and a half deep. My third pair of flip flops gave way and I had to hoof it barefoot. I was nervous that I would step on some nail or piece of metal so it took longer to get to the road that leads to Libis.

Incredibly, a portion of the road had been washed of the mud and it was easier for me to walk barefoot (at this point my son and my friend had stayed behind). There were people by the riverside scavenging the flotsam and junk that was washed up on the side. One had found a lady’s wallet. He opened and pulled out a couple of hundred pesos that were soaking wet. “Ang pera ay nasa basura,” he pronounced. Others saw this and quickly redoubled their efforts hoping to find another wallet or some such. One nearly fell into the river and we had to help him up. I made the mistake of the going close to the edge that a strong wave hit me and sent me backwards. I was lucky or else the wave didn’t pull me outwards to the middle of the river and God knows where I would have ended.  

I took a moment sitting in the muddy riverbanks and said a prayer. Lucky lucky devil. Curiosity killed the cat but not on this day.

I picked myself up (people immediately went back to scavenging) and walked on. I checked my camera and it was still working.

I made my way down further towards Marikina Riverbanks. The waters receded but it was plenty frightening. As the waters crashed towards the Riverbanks, it made an awful gurgling noise. I saw some fish on the road and realized they were janitor fish.

On the sidewalk some men placed a bunch of them. I snapped a couple of pictures of one of them trying to impale one of the fish. Unable to crack its strong shell, he took a rock and pounded on it. One gouged another fish’s eye with a rusty nail. Another pounded on the fish. I couldn’t hold it back any longer and told them to cut it out. The man whose picture I took spat and kicked the fish. I started to push them towards the river. One boy who was also out taking pictures began to help me. Then one of the men who was earlier torturing the fish got mad at me. “Who was I to tell them to stop?” he yelled. “You don’t own the fish or the river.”

He stomped on one fish and cussed me out. I cussed him back and prepared to defend myself. A barangay tanod who was nearby saw this and came between us. I was riled up. I know it’s a fish but still I couldn’t stand for anything like that.

We drew a crowd. There was this Caucasian lady nearby saw the commotion. She came over and said that it was brave thing to do. Especially since I was outnumbered six to one. I nodded not knowing what else to say.

As the rains began to fall harder, I decided it was time to head back. This time I went the opposite way not wanting to go back through the muddy riverbanks. This was through the public park that was buried under a foot of mud. As I sloshed through I was nervous once more. What the hell was I thinking? I could seriously get hurt out here.

It took me an agonizing and slow 20 minutes just to traverse 100 meters. And I did it while reciting the Lord Prayer (the waters were also flowing back inland towards me).

As soon as I got home, I washed up making sure that I scrubbed myself clean. Now I’m waiting for the next soup kitchen run. And the rains have come pouring down again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The rains and rising waters. It all comes flooding back.

The rains and rising waters. It all comes flooding back.
by rick olivares

There's a man I know as a tricycle driver in our area. He's worked really hard to have a home of his own. Now for the second time in three years, his home along with many others, is once more under water. His children have been evacuated to the nearby basketball court that is on much higher ground.

The driver? He's sitting at the corner of the street where he lives watching over his home. He's afraid that people might loot it when the waters go down. Barely 20 feet from him the flood waters menacingly climb higher. There's a crowd of people watching. There's really nothing to see after you realized that the street is a good six-plus feet under water. At its height, it went up to eight feet. But you have to understand, all these people watching -- they live inside the area that is known as Olandes. The place is obviously named after the Netherlands with its dikes and homes by the riverside. It's residents were forcibly evacuated by noon but it's hard to leave a place you call home. So they linger nearby.

I spot another man standing underneath a shed too small to completely shield him from the rain. But he doesn't care. It looks like he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's covered in plastic from a garbage bag to the type of plastic that is used to cover notebooks. It's a makeshift raincoat worn by Mang Roger.

Mang Roger used to drive for my dad. While handing over clothes, towels, shirts, jackets and water to some of the people stranded (including the tricycle driver), I converse with him. Mang Roger left home this morning thinking that the rains would stop. He's now a taxi driver and he hoped to make some money today because they were due for a grocery run. Before he left, he instructed his eldest son to prepare some rope and emergency supplies should the water climb. Now Mang Roger is stuck at the corner of Maj. Dizon Road (the main thoroughfare that runs through Industrial Valley that connects Katipunan Avenue and Marcos Highway) and President Quirino Street. He is a good 15-minutes walk away from his home. With the high waters and the strong current, it will take him at least an hour. He breathed a sigh of relief when eldest son informed him they are safe at a neighbor's house. On the 3rd floor. 

I asked Mang Roger if he was going to traverse the flood to go to his kids. He said no. Maybe when he was a lot younger. The current is so strong that it pushes you away. If you lived inland in Olandes that means facing the different water flows coming from the many side streets that snake all over the place. If one got swept away, he'd find yourself in the Marikina River in no time. 

I understood. But if my kids were there, no way will I stay out here and leave them by themselves. And I am not the only one who feels and thinks the same way. Three men, all carrying food and water, brave the waters. One tough looking guy opts not to use the rope that Navy frogmen installed earlier as a lifeline. Soon the strong current pushes him towards his right and he soon finds himself struggling to stay afloat. He regains his footing and turns back along with one other.

The first man who went into the water is far away now having successfully navigated his way through the flotsam and jetsam. A cheer breaks out from those watching his attempt to reach his family. I tried to keep track of him but in the fading light, it was difficult. This was the best time to go back in because in the dark, there's not much of a chance.

I went in earlier to help some people who were stranded. The water is brown and at times black from oil and God-knows-what else. The water makes a churning sickening sound that is frightening. It took all my will power and courage to get across. 

You see, I was a victim of Typhoon Ondoy. I lost my home and my belongings (also later to looting). The water was neck level inside my home and I stand 5'11" so you know that's pretty high. Outside my old home, the water was above my head. No big deal as I can swim. Except I never swam while carrying my dog (she's a dalmatian)  to safety. It was one of the most excruciating and tense moments of my life as I had to fight the strong current. When the waters subsided days later, I returned to my home to find it ransacked. I was not only deflated but I felt that I had lost someone or something precious. I sat by the road with the feeling that my world had caved in.

For two months after Ondoy, I was depressed. I would go back to my old apartment (after the flood waters subsided) but I refused to enter. I just stood out there. For what... 20 or 30 minutes every single day. I couldn't accept what happened. As if my mind would return to the pre-wrath of God days. Why not? It was a good memory. Except the reality was painful.

I eventually attended some counseling sessions for victims of Ondoy. I sort of snapped out of it when a woman beside me recounted to the entire group her ordeal of hanging on to a telephone line with her kids. One by one her children were taken away from her by the current. She wanted to go after them but one child clung on to her. She lost two children that day. It is a hurtful and painful memory.

That is why when it rains I can't wait to go home. Those who were never victims of Ondoy, do not understand this. They tell you that what you lost are just material things. Really? How about you lose them and let's talk about it afterwards? So I only talk about it with those who were under water or lost something or someone. They understand and feel the same way.

So I am out here once more today not just to help but to confront my own fears. I made my way out of the flood waters with my clothes soiled. But I didn't care. As long as we got to help some people to safety. Some others who went into the water emerged with torn clothes. That was because of all the junk that was bumping into them. 

I snapped myself back to reality. I went back home, changed into dry clothes then went back out. I brought with me more clothes, towels, jackets and even one of my favorite sweaters. As I gave them away, I realized that I didn't have enough. And I felt helpless. 

I wondered aloud what can be done about this. A soldier who was just relieved after paddling about for hours rescuing people said in the vernacular, "Tell people this story." I was puzzled. It turned out that the tricycle driver informed the soldier (who saw me distributing relief goods) that I was in media. 

I saw many acts of courage and heroism today. From people who were about to lose their loved ones. From people who like the soldier, paddled on against the relentless rain and frightening current. 

I just went home to write this and share it. I have no idea who will read this. After all, this is just one of the many stories that are coming out of this horrible disaster. 

I hope it serves its message and lesson to all. I am shocked that some people are railing against the national government at this point in time. You know, a great man once said, 'as not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.' This is such a time.

As for me, it's 7:24pm as I finish this. I just bought more cup noodles. Mang Roger and quite a few others will need this.

Scenes from a flood Marikina City Tuesday 545pm

Scenes from Tuesday 5pm at Olandes, Marikina. When I went back to this same spot the following morning, Wednesday, the water in the middle area had gone down to five feet and the carcasses of a couple of vehicles could be seen -- an Avanza and a Mercedes Benz.

Families from Olandes stayed dry inside passenger jeepneys. Olandes is home to more than 2 dozen jeeps that play the Project 4-Cubao route.

Major Santos Dizon Road that connects Katipunan Avenue Extension to Marcos Highway was flooded. It still remains impassable. 

Trapped on the second floor. By nighttime of Tuesday, the electricity was shut down by the city government.  

Philippine Army and Navy soldiers as well as Barangay tanods went around the flooded areas in boats and rafts. There was even a jet cycle used in the morning to ferry people to safety.

Monsoon flooding here in Marikina

This is the Marikina River from Industrial Valley Marikina. This is the road that connects Riverbanks to Libis. I took the photo as of 8:45am Tuesday morning. From the normal water levels, this is like 15-20 feet high already. During Ondoy, the water was at bridge level as people and debris slammed onto the bridge with such force that people feared the bridge would give way. At the back is SM Marikina.

This is the barge that serves as a footbridge connecting the riverbanks. It is now moored on a bridge pillar. Take a look at the waves. 

This is the neighborhood very close to Riverbanks. During Ondoy, the water was at the second level of the brown house to the left. So far, the flood waters have seeped into some homes but just a bit. If the rain keeps up the waters will go higher. How do you make them leave? It's difficult to as this is their home. I know the feeling after I lost my home to flooding and looting during and after Ondoy.

SM Marikina taken from the Marcos Bridge. The basement level parking is gone. When I went around last night with my dad, we noticed the mall security was all over the place monitoring the situation. You know, I hope that the mall owners are kind to their employees. I really do.

There's a sign across the bridge saying that people aren't allowed on the island that separates the two lanes of traffic. But with the flooding people are all over the place taking photos and updating others on the situation.