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It happened on a Saturday morning. Heavy rains continued to pour as a number of cars were already floating in water. A few hours later, people were soaked in neck-deep floods, while some were stranded on roads, bridges and roofs. Rich and poor alike, survivors cried for help as they witnessed their prized belongings swept away by raging floods. Such was the scene that unfolded at the height of “Ondoy,” the worst storm to hit Metro Manila in almost four decades.
 

BACKGROUND

On September 24, 2009, a low-pressure area inside the Philippine boundary developed into a tropical depression and was named “Ondoy,” with the international name Ketsana. Two days later, it intensified into a tropical storm, which made landfall in the boundary of Aurora and Quezon, and crossed Central Luzon for 12 hours. On the same day, it enhanced the habagat, which brought rains concentrated in Metro Manila, Central and Southern Luzon, and some parts of Visayas and Mindanao.
 
ondoy-track
source: PAGASA
 
At 455 millimeters, the amount of rain accumulated in Metro Manila within 24 hours surpassed the normal monthly amount in the metropolis, according to PAGASA.

IN THE WAKE OF ONDOY


“Ondoy” exited the Philippine boundary on September 27, 2009 leaving a wake of devastation
 
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source: NDRRMC

Based on the final report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (then the National Disaster Coordinating Council), Tropical Storm Ondoy affected 4.9 million people in the country. The enhancement of the habagat resulted to floods in 1,786 barangays in 26 provinces, and landslides in some parts of Cagayan, Pampanga and Camarines Sur. The catastrophic storm also took 464 lives, injured 529 and caused 37 unaccounted for. Damage to infrastructure and agriculture amounted to P11 billion.
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LESSONS


On the seventh anniversary of the disastrous storm, we visited Marikina, one of Metro Manila’s hardest-hit areas. We asked survivors to share with us some of the lessons that the Ondoy tragedy has taught them. Here are some of their answers:
 
1) Preparedness is a must.

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“Sobrang takot. Kapag may nagbabaha na ngayon, nagre-ready na kami. Nag-aabang na kami, baka sakaling bumaha, ay lumikas na tayo sa matataas na lugar. Alam na namin ang gagawin namin kapag andiyan na eh. Hinahanda namin ‘yung mga gamit namin. May plano na. ‘Yung kahandaan na kasi noong una, biglaan yun. Natakot din kami. Hindi namin alam ang gagawin namin.”
 
(It was frightening. Now, when flood occurs, we start to prepare. We monitor updates, while planning our evacuation to higher grounds. We were afraid before but now, we already know what to do.)
– REY BAYAOA, a 52-year-old shoemaker in Tumana who saved his family of six during Ondoy
 
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“Kasi dati ang ugali namin, pateka-teka kami. Once na nagkakaroon ng bagyo, kampante ‘yung mga tao na hindi tataas ‘yung tubig o kaya, kakayanin ng bahay nila. Pero ngayon, kapag sinabing may bagyo at nag-signal number three na sa Metro Manila, automatic, ‘yung mga gamit na kayang iakyat, tinataas na,”
 
(We were complacent before. We were confident that our homes could protect us from flood. But now, we automatically move our things to higher ground, especially when signal number 3 is raised in Metro Manila.)
– KATRIN ABELLA, 24-year-old employee who recalled losing four neighbors due to leptospirosis that became rampant after Ondoy.
 
2) Be familiar with warning systems.

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“Mahalaga, para makapaghanda ang mga tao. Meron na rin dati, nag-a-alarm. Kapag 15, alert ‘yun. May maiksi, may mahabang tunog. Kapag mas mahaba, malapit na sa critical ‘yun, mga 17 na yun. Tsaka kapag matagal ang ulan, nakabantay na kami. Ang alam ko, kapag hindi malakas ang hangin, habagat yun. Kapag may ulan at hampas ng hangin, bagyo. Okay naman ang PAGASA, maganda ngayon. High-tech na.”
 
(It is important that we know various alarms from the river warning system; a shorter siren means alert level or a river height of 15 meters. A longer siren means an almost critical level, close to 17 meters. When the rains are prolonged, we are already on the lookout. As far as I know, habagat has weaker winds while a tropical cyclone has stronger ones. PAGASA is instrumental since they have more advanced technology now.)
– ROMEO BUENAVENTURA, 58-year-old resident of Barangay Barangka who recalled how they witnessed the sudden rise of Marikina River in September 2009
 
 
3) Never be complacent.

 
“’Yung bahay namin, wala pang one kilometer away from the Marikina River… Sina mama, naging kampante sila na hindi kami aabutin ng baha. ‘Yung bahay kasi namin hanggang third floor, maliban dun, first experience naming ‘yun na sobrang baha. Sa mga dati naming bahay, kapag sinabing baha, hanggang tuhod, hanggang bewang, hindi naming in-expect na kapag sa Marikina pala, floor by floor ng bahay ang pinag-uusapan. So hindi sila lumikas… may dumating na chopper mula sa LGU tapos iniligtas sila.”

 
(My mom lives one kilometer away from the Marikina River. My mother was confident since our house had three floors. Before, floods only reached up to our knees and waists. We were not used to the kind of massive flood Ondoy brought so they did not evacuate. Fortunately, a chopper came to rescue them.) – KATRIN ABELLLA
 
4) We must care for the environment.
 
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“Yung mga ilog, ginagawa ng ibang tapunan. Kalinisan dapat. Dapat tinatapon sa lagayan ng mga basura. Hindi sa mga ilog.”

(Some people throw garbage into the rivers. We must observe cleanliness. We should manage wastes properly.)

– GENARD GUEVARRA, 21 years old and lives just a few meters away from the Marikina River
 
 
“Kailangan talaga may pagmamahal sa kalikasan. ‘Wag babuyin. ‘Wag lagyan ng basura. Dito ang takbuhan ng ulan eh, mula sa Quezon City at Montalban. ‘Yung mga basura, inaagos.”
(We should love our environment. We shouldn’t degrade it. Rubbish from Quezon City and Montalban are brought here to our city through the river.) – ROMEO BUENAVENTURA
 
 
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5) Cooperation matters.

 
“Gan’un na lang kaimportante ang kooperasyon ng mga LGUs sa mga kalamidad na kagaya ng Ondoy kasi nga sila ‘yung may kontrol. Kumbaga, sila ‘yung medium ng mga tao para malaman kung gaano na ba kataas ‘yung tubig sa ilog o kung kailangan na ba talaga lumikas. Nakadepende rin sa kanila ‘yung safety ng mga tao, halimbawa, mali sila ng information na ibinigay… mas maraming mamamatay.”
 
(Cooperation among local government units is important during calamities since they have control. They also inform us how high the river is, or if we already need to evacuate. Our safety depends on them. If they give us wrong information, lives will suffer.) – KATRIN ABELLA
 
 
6) There is hope after a tragedy.
“Yung mga gamit, kahit paano, unti-unti namin na-recover. Syempre, hindi naman mabibigla na bibili ulit. Ang mahalaga, unti-unting bumabangaon.”
(We cannot easily replace our lost possessions, but we are trying to recover, little by little. What matters is that we will stand up again.) – REY BAYAOA
 
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7) Keep the faith.
 
“Anim kami. Wala namang napahamak sa amin. Awa ng Diyos, nailigitas ko lahat ng pamilya ko. Kumpleto pa rin kaya ngayon. Kapag umuulan, nakahanda na kami bilang mag-anak.”
(There are six of us in the family. No one was hurt. By the grace of God, I was able to save my family members. Now, when it rains, our family automatically prepares.) – REY BAYAOA
 
 
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More than half a decade has passed, and still, memories from the Ondoy calamity burn clear in people’s minds. But more important than the tragedy are the valuable lessons we’ve learned to make sure that we don’t suffer such great devastation and loss ever again.
 
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