Thursday, August 9, 2012

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.”

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