Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The clouds just gathered, clotted, and rained down on us, hard, for about 5 minutes.

I can imagine that there are people in the city who are cowering on top of their roofs right about now, expecting the worst.

Pundits here have compared the flooding to Katrina, and the analogy fits, at least as far as disaster preparedness and clean up is concerned. Bluntly, no one expected floods of this magnitude in the city. The city didn't have any rubber boats for rescue operations, nor did it have (as far as I can tell) a disaster readiness plan in place. The media leaped into the breach, taking cell phone calls from stranded victims, broadcasting their locations, but their sheer numbers mitigated against any effective response.

Citizens have mobilized to volunteer in rescue and relief operations, collecting food, water, and clothing to distribute to the victims, but there doesn't seem to be any central or official command post to coordinate all of these efforts. I collected two bags of clothing that Lizzie and I could donate and asked the guard downstairs where I might turn it in. "The Protestant church, ma'am," she said, indicating the church around the corner that we tried one Sunday morning. There, organization reigned. Three women at a sign in desk took our bags and asked us to sign a sheet, leaving our name, contact number and address, and type of donation.

Now thousands of survivors, homeless and penniless, are crammed together in school gyms. I read that 3000 people in one such shelter had to share one working toilet. That's bound to pump up anxiety, anger and despair. The president just opened up the Palace for 300 survivors and they are readying a carpeted ballroom for another 50. But 350 survivors in a modicum of comfort are not even a drop in the bucket filled with millions of displaced people. The threat of disease lurks over these crowded relief camps, of course--dysentery the most mild of these. Dengue fever is a problem, of course. I can also imagine that typhoid might also loom its ugly head.

This morning, the headline in the newspaper read "Flood Crisis Deepens"--angry flood survivors are rioting with each other as they fight to get rescue supplies. They won't let the trucks through to the official drop off sites, too afraid that they won't get their share of the food and water. Residents in Marikina, a neighborhood hard hit by the floods, complain that city trucks are dumping loads of garbage on a city-owned vacant lot, loads of soggy household goods, dead animals, and rotting refuse that stinks over the whole neighborhood.

On TV, a reporter with a grim visage chatters over a banner in Filipino about Pagasa, the national weather report, and something about the current storm due to hit land in the next hours, Pegeng. SUPERTYPHOON? jumps out. Scientists, politicians, and journalists blame the crisis on climate change; the number of commercials devoted to saving the environment have increased noticably since Saturday. Writers suggest that this is God's warning that the country needs to learn from its mistakes, make crucial changes, and pull together to save what's left of the its natural resources.

Meanwhile, the TV is filled again with Law and Order, 24, the Tyra Banks show, telenovelas and local variety shows, mixed in with the sober 24-hour news feeds. Life begins to return to normal, at least for those of us who weren't soaked by the floods. It goes on; the crowd outside of the Protestant church shrinks just a little.

It begins to pour again as I write this. Everyone must be cringing in his or her skin, waiting for the final, obliterating lightening bolt. The city and country can figure out, given time and money and patience, how to recover--physically--from this unexpected disaster. But what will be the lingering emotional costs? (As I type this, the news show on in the background posts a piece on PTSD--the symptoms and the treatment.) How will the country measure these very real wounds, and heal?


Lizzie and I get on a plane for Bohol tomorrow morning at 5:30. We should be at the beach by 7:00. We'll be off the internet grid until Monday afternoon, when--God and weather willing--we'll be back in the city to begin our last three weeks here. Lizzie's last day of school will be October 16, and now with some of the schedule changes at the University, it looks as if it'll be my last day to collect portfolios and final papers from my students (who I hope are all okay. I wonder if any of them lost their computers and thus all of their work for the semester? Speaking of uncalculated damages...)

Dave arrives on October 18 and we give him a whirlwind tour of Manila before hopping on a plane on October 24, and saying goodbye to this adventure. A 4 day stop in Tokyo and then we'll be home in Green Bay by October 30. Again--God, weather and human activity willing.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Laurie, what an "adventure" you and Lizzie are having. Your stories remind me of the flooding and hurricanes back in NOLA. I don't miss those experiences. Please be careful and safe.