4:00 pm. We reached the corner store but could go no further. Water was now up to my shoulders. If we continue, I was afraid we would drown. Someone called my name on top of the second-floor of an apartment building. “Diri na lang kamo”, (Stay here!). We struggled to open the gate of the apartment building while holding on to the gate to fight the current, then went inside. It was an apartment with 4 units – 2 units each floor. On the second floor, we joined other wet families who had left their homes also – neighbors we’ve seen around but never talked to. It was strange to see all of them there, wet and scared as we were. Relieved to be out of the water, my sisters and I managed to squeeze a joke here and there but we couldn’t believe what was happening. We discovered that in her panic, my sister had three high-heeled shoes in her bag, none of them were a pair and one was silver. We laughed at it but she was smart to have lots of dry clothes in the garbage bag. It floated when we were boldly treading the waters.
4:10pm. Shivering in our wet clothes, we tried to crouch to keep away from the rain in the second floor hallway. People continued pouring into the second floor. Like us, they couldn’t brave the walk, the rising water and the strong current and found safety in the apartment. We worried about Tatay, Doray and Bob. A bottle of unopened Coca-cola floated pass below and everyone pointed. Ironic that there was plenty of water but not a drop to drink. How good that Coke would have tasted.
4:30pm. A thin woman shivered beside us. My sister gave her some of the clothes from the plastic garbage bag she carried. Someone was praying the rosary aloud. We joined in. A guy asked if he could leave his bag with us. I was about to refuse, afraid it will get lost. He said he was going to walk to the next block to check on his family. He had a new-born there and was on his way home when the flood started. We took the bag and gave him our names so he could find us. It was getting dark and cold, my sisters and I decided to get into some dry clothes from the garbage bag. One apartment unit was open, a studio-type with kitchen and bathroom. The bathroom was clogged and there was water on the floor. It was a good thing that there was no electricity to see whatever is floating in there. But we braved it to change into some dry clothes.
5:00pm. There was a truck stuck in the road in front of the apartment. We based the depth of the water by the red stripe on the side of the truck. It was slowly disappearing into the water. Paolo decided to go back to the house and try to convince his grandfather to join us. There was no electricity and we wonder if they were able to save candles and matches from the flood. It would be terrible to stay in the flooded house without light. I told him to try to salvage some food and drinking water too.
5:30pm. Paolo still not back and there was no way to get news on what is happening at home. People stopped navigating the floodwaters and stayed where they are. It was growing dark and water still rising. We busied ourselves with trying to contact our friends and family. My brother can’t leave the house. They were on their second floor, too, and water inside their house was thigh-deep. His cars were floating and bumping on each other inside the garage. Told those who were safe that we needed rescue. Asked our friends in the neighborhood if they were able to leave the house safely. I had a new sim card and couldn’t call anyone. My phonebook was still empty. Decided to turn my phone off to save battery.
6:00pm. Paolo and Doray arrived in the dark. Doray struggled with the current. Water was up to Paolo’s chest which meant it would have been up to my ears. Bob was with Tatay. He still refused to leave his dogs. He said that they found a way to elevate him and the dogs. They say they had left the house with drinking water and food but had to let it go on the way because of the strong current.
7:00pm. We moved deeper into the open balcony of the apartment to get away from the cold. We had changed into drier clothes but still we shivered. I had two sets of shirts on but was saving my last dry laundry pair of shorts. I was still wearing the pajamas I had the night before. If we had to pee, we peed on the stairs where no one passes. In that crowded apartment, there was no place for privacy. It was dark too. The only light was a candle inside the apartment unit and an occasional flood light from a rescue team trying to make their way into the neighborhood. We prayed the rosary.
8:00pm. Someone said water was subsiding slowly. It was too dark to be sure. We worried about Tatay and his damn dogs. We argued about trying to walk towards the hospital or staying where we were. I just know I didn’t want to get back into the water until I can see where I’m going. I know we were going to survive this and I was willing to shiver until morning.
9:00pm. Bob arrived to check on us. He said they found a way to elevate Tatay. They had positioned the feet of the bed on top of sturdy dining chairs, and then placed a plastic chair on the bed for Tatay to sit on while his dogs sit around him. He had a candle to see in the dark. He also said that our next-door neighbor had offered shelter and we had room there if we want to move. It never occurred to us to seek shelter there when we left the house. We didn’t know the place was occupied with tenants until now. Bob said that the tenants had broken into the second floor even before the owners gave the go because the water was rising so fast. We had permission to stay there too. We argued what to do. The priority was to get Tatay out of the house if we can and the house next door would probably convince him. It was the nearest and the safest.
10:00pm. Waded back into the murky waters again. It was lower now but still waist deep. With just a flash light, we moved slowly in the dark and headed towards home. A rescue boat passed us and asked if there were any people deeper into the lower parts of the neighborhood. We said we don’t know. We reached the neighbors house and went in. They offered us a bedroom, mattresses and a sofa to sleep in, and glee, pillows! We changed into whatever dry clothes we got left while Paolo and Bob went back to the house to convince Tatay to move. The old man refused to budge. We all shared one glass of water. It started to rain again.
June 22 – Sunday
12 am. Paolo and Bob went back a second time to get Tatay. This time he went with them. It was raining and water might rise again. We have to lock up the house to keep our furniture from floating out of the gate. We had instant noodles from a cup and some water. We counted ourselves very lucky to be in beds, dry and with food and water. Paolo then silently started to cry. He had been complaining of back pain from all the heavy lifting and worried about his friends living in the deeper parts of the neighborhood. I guess everything started to sink in and he was overwhelmed. Like a man, he tried to hide his tears in the dark and buried his frustration on a pillow. Tatay then told us how he fell into a man-hole on his way back home during the flood. He couldn’t see the road, was avoiding debris, and fell full-figured into an open manhole. A tri-sikad driver saw him fell and grabbed his hand to pull him back out. We were shocked to learn about the news and relieved that he made it out. He had bruises to prove it.
It was a long night. I tried not thinking about people in worse places than us but I didn’t get any sleep just the same. Rescue boats passed but the neighborhood was quiet. Even the dogs stopped barking.
4am. Water subsided faster than it rose. We still couldn’t see the road but we saw people passing below. Tatay, Bob and Paolo went down to check on the dogs. They were gone for a long time. When they got back, Tatay was no longer with them. Paolo said that Tatay took one look at the damage done to his home and his voiced cracked. “Diri lang ko a. (I’ll stay here)”, he said. He stayed there alone until morning. I cried after that.
I consider myself lucky, but I can't shake off the feeling of huge loss, not only for me and my family, but everyone who suffered through that night.
to be continued ...