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Philippines: Surviving Tropical Storm Ondoy - Ketsana

Dave Llorito's picture
For 24 hours last Saturday, Typhoon Ondoy dumped 455 millimeters of rain on Luzon, causing massive floods and destroying lives and property in Metro Manila. (Photo courtesy of IRRI Images under a Creative Commons license)

Muelmar Magallanes, an 18 year-old construction worker, had already saved 30 people from the raging floodwaters last Saturday. Shivering and exhausted, he dived back into the murky waters to save a mother and a baby girl who were bobbing up and down among the floating debris and brought them to safety. Then he was gone, swept away by the torrents. His body was found the following day.

Magallanes is one of the more than 240 casualties caused by Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name: Ketsana). For 24 hours last Saturday, Typhoon Ondoy dumped 455 millimeters of rain (double the volume brought to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina) on Luzon, causing massive floods in Metro Manila and the adjoining regions, destroying lives and property, and creating anguish and devastation in the metropolis.

As of this writing, official figures put the number of affected people at 1.87 million. A total of 374,890 persons are currently sheltered in 607 evacuation centers provided by the government, citizens’ groups, and volunteers. The value of damaged infrastructure reached 1.5 billion pesos and crops close to 900 million pesos.

Hardest hit were towns in the eastern part of Metro Manila including Marikina and Cainta, with floodwaters rising up to the second story of houses and buildings, forcing many people to climb onto roofs. On Sunday night, the airwaves were full of anguished and desperate cries from men, women, and children trapped on rooftops begging for food and water, if not for rescue, as torrents of rain pounded at their shivering bodies.

Groups and private business responded by organizing their own volunteer teams to rescue trapped victims or bring food, water, clothes, medicine and blankets. (Photo courtesy of L.A Lomarda under a Creative Commons license)

A day before, the news about Tropical Storm Ondoy seemed hardly threatening. It was after all “just” Signal Number 1 (far from the threatening Signal No. 3) and many residents of the metropolis started their weekend doing their usual routines—going to the malls to shop, bonding with their families, or visiting friends and relatives.

As the drizzles early in the morning turned to sustained downpour, many people found to their horror that roads were overwhelmed by rising floodwaters, forcing them to abandon their vehicles. That created a massive gridlock that made it difficult for rescuers to reach those who were trapped in their homes and buildings.

Despite the difficulties, the response to the crisis was immediate and heartwarming. Government, in particular the National Disaster Coordinating Council, immediately mobilized its rescue teams. Citizens’ groups, media organizations, civil society, universities, church organizations, and private business—organized through text messages and social media websites like Facebook and Twitter—responded by organizing their own volunteer teams to rescue trapped victims or bring food, water, clothes, medicine, and blankets. Help from the international community also poured in.

Yesterday, the country’s weather bureau detected another tropical depression heading towards the Philippines. That will make rescue and relief efforts even more difficult. But I expect the Filipino’s resilience and indomitable spirit to prevail over this tragedy.