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Both rich and poor suffered from Ondoy's wrath

September 28, 2009 1:20am
There was hardly any trace of the chest-deep floods that placed long stretches of EDSA under water on Saturday as the MRT train made its way from the Santolan to the Guadalupe station. Rows of white police cars were neatly arrayed inside Camp Crame, and the highway seemed to have been swept clean of debris.

A sign on the closed gate of a normally bustling mall in Cubao, however, gave a small hint that a disaster had just struck the nation’s capital: “Farmers Plaza is closed today due to power service interruption."

On the lower ground floor, a security guard said the mall had been closed since Saturday due to “unstable electricity" amid the heavy downpour from tropical storm “Ondoy." With maximum winds of 85 kilometers per hour, the storm was not as powerful as many of the typhoons that have hit the country. However, it dumped a record-breaking 341 millimeters of rain in just six hours Saturday, causing massive flooding that brought metropolitan Manila almost to a standstill.

Salesgirls of the Super K drug store at the Farmer’s Plaza said waist-high flood waters breached the glass walls of the shop, sending the products piled on the shelves crashing to the floor. On Sunday morning, the staff was busy sweeping the shattered glass from the wet floor and stuffing the products into black trash bags.

Lahat ng computer namin basa. Bagong renovate pa naman itong tindahan noong May lang," said Nita Acsayan, one of the salesgirls.

A few doors away, the offices of Western Union and Metrobank also bore the brunt of the unprecedented floods. Many employees were drying office chairs and other equipment outside the premises, and clearing the areas of garbage.

Some stores on the perimeter of the mall that managed to stay dry were open. In contrast, the entire Gateway mall was spared and was buzzing with the usual hordes of shoppers on a Sunday afternoon. The only thing that seemed unusual was the long queue at the telephone booths, which are normally empty, as people tried to reach their loved ones in flooded towns and cities.

Near the entrance to the LRT station in Cubao, a man put on his shoes before entering the mall with his mud-splashed laptop bag. His companion still had mud up to his knees, and both were carrying filthy rucksacks that seemed to have been hastily packed.

From the train, commuters craned their necks to watch the swift current of the Marikina River, still brown and swollen on an overcast Sunday. Trash bags and other storm debris fluttered on a power pylon on the river bank, a silent testament to the destructive force of the floods that swept away lives and vehicles and houses.

By Sunday evening, the National Disaster Coordinating Council reported that at least 73 people had died and 23 more went missing, statistics that did not seem to reflect the frantic calls for help from many relatives and friends over the Internet and mobile phones throughout the weekend.

The number did not include 36 people who died in a shanty town in Brgy. Silangan in Quezon City, according to a report from its Parish Pastoral Council, and eight bodies that were found in Provident Village in Marikina, one of the worst-hit areas.

Below the Santolan LRT station in Marikina, muddy roads stretched in all directions, some starting to cake under the weak noonday sun. Commuters scrambled to get a ride home, but the helpful guards said there were still many areas in Antipolo and Cainta that could not be reached by land transportation.

On one corner of the station, a well-dressed woman sat with other stranded commuters near the vending machines, waiting for a relative to fetch her. She had been there since 1 p.m. Saturday and had to endure the stench of the lone toilet in the premises. She refused to give her name, saying “baka sabihin, ayan kasi, kahit may bagyo namamasyal pa."

During the night, the spacious station became an improvised refugee center for hundreds of stranded residents who stretched out in all available spaces just to get some rest, she said. By Sunday noon, most had left and the station had returned to normal operations.

But for many people who lost their homes, it will take a long time before life in the city becomes normal again.

On the train back to Cubao, a young woman from Antipolo took note of a mother with a little girl who was wearing muddy slippers and a house dress. Misery, as the saying goes, loves company and it was not long before they were narrating each other’s experiences.

The young woman had taken the train to Santolan to get home but decided to head back to Cubao after seeing the sludge-filled streets and long queue of commuters waiting for a ride.

She had spent the night at a hotel in Cubao after getting stranded with her friend, but said, “Hindi rin kami makatulog dahil nag-aalala kami sa mga pamilya namin."

Meanwhile, the mother was bringing her two children to a relative after spending the night at the Santolan Elementary School. Their house had been submerged in the flood, and the family hopped from roof to roof to get to safety while the waters swirled around them. “Mga refrigerator, washing machine, bahay, lahat inaanod ng baha," she said.

Indeed, as photographs sent by contributors showed, rich and poor suffered equally in the devastating floods. Luxury SUVs smashed against delivery vans and cars in pile-ups across the metropolis, and upscale bungalows as well as flimsy shacks both went under water. (View all the photo uploads in our Facebook "Ondoy Pics" photo album.)

A video clip making the rounds of Facebook pages shows dramatic scenes from the UERM hospital, where cars floated helplessly in the inundated compound while their passengers sloshed their way in chest-deep waters towards the building.

The NDCC has not released any estimates of damage yet, but when it does, the figures will not only show the extent of destruction that “Ondoy" wrought on the national capital region and its population of more than 10 million people.

It will also show the extent of the government’s lack of preparedness in dealing with the impact of natural phenomena, and the disasters that could have been prevented with better foresight and budget priorities. - GMANews.TV
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