Co-Volunteer Joe Claret shares his own experience about the Typhoon Ondoy:
September 26, 2009. It began as any normal rainy Saturday morning in our place in Marikina City. I reside in Monte Vista Subdivision in Barangay I.V.C. (Industrial Valley Complex), a hilly place not prone to floods, so it was natural for me to be oblivious of what was going on outside our subdivision. Little did I know that this was the start of the worst rain-flood to hit Metro-Manila in 40 years.
I was looking forward to attending the World Animal Day Launch in Eastwood at 6pm as a PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society) volunteer, I had everything prepared and ready, and my mind was set on going to the launch. Then I got a call at 11am from my girlfriend Cha (who works at PAWS), frantic on the phone saying she can’t make it to PARC (PAWS Philippine Animal Rehabilitation Center), explaining she’s at Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall in Cainta, Rizal, and she can see the flood-water rising. She had to go back to her apartment at Gunting St., Midtown Subdivision, Barangay San Roque, Marikina City, just at the back of McDonald’s Marcos Highway across Sta. Lucia Mall, Cainta, to check on her two cats Scott and Logan.
It was 12 noon, the rain kept on pouring without respite or mercy. The World Animal Day Launch was cancelled and I got a second call from Cha, saying the flood in her apartment has reached knee level and the flood on the street outside has reached waist level. This got me worried. I told her to stay there, that I was going there with a crate for her 2 cats, to get her and her two cats Scott and Logan. The rescue plan I told her was for me to get her and her 2 cats out of there safely, for her to travel light, and together go to PARC.
I prepared my bag with everything she might need, wore a basketball jersey, board shorts and slippers since I knew I was going to get drenched. I sought help from PAWS, went to PARC (Aurora Blvd., after Barangka, just before Katipunan, at the back of Ateneo) to borrow a crate and asked Alex, who works at PAWS, if he could drive me to pick up Cha. We left PARC around 1pm. I got a text from Cha: “Please hurry, hanggang sink na ang baha, mabilis na tumataas…” The flood was rapidly increasing, already at chest level.
We passed Marcos Bridge and we saw the Marikina River, engulfing everthing it could: Riverbanks underwater, the 2 basement levels of SM Marikina underwater. The Marikina river was high enough that it was grazing the bottom of the Marcos Bridge. Alex and I went as far as Ligaya, Pasig, Marcos Highway. Cha texted again to hurry, the flood getting higher. As we drove along, the signs were there: A lot of people stranded, walking as far as they could, vehicles trying to reroute and traffic at a virtual standstill. I told Alex to turn back at the first U-Turn he could find, left my bag with my cellphone and all my valuables with him in the van together with my umbrella. I asked a favor of him if he could wait for me and Cha at the other side when we get back, thanked him, got the crate at the back of the van and went on my way. Any baggage I bring on the way to rescuing Cha and her 2 cats will just slow me down, carrying the crate alone, which can accommodate a full-grown Aspin, takes both my hands and a lot of effort. It was just me and the ever-handy PAWS crate in my first-ever immersion into the deluge of flood-water.
It was 2pm when I started my walk along Marcos Highway from Ligaya, Pasig City, which was already at knee-level flood. I wasn’t alone, you could even say I had a lot of company. The multitude of people braving the flood, strong rains and bone-chilling wind was a sight to behold… quite alarmingly it felt like the end of civilization. I immediately got drenched the minute I started my walk, it even got to a point when the wind was so strong the rain felt a thousand small stones piercing your body.
The flood-level differed from place to place, there were places where it was waist-level, then knee-level, then waist-level again. The water was brown, with different kinds of trash floating and different kinds of God-knows-what from the canals and sewers in the water touching and bumping my legs and feet as a I moved along. I tried not to think about it, I’ve gone this far and I’m not turning back. But this was nothing compared to what I was about to endure as I moved further.
I reached Sta. Lucia Mall, the intersection of Marcos Highway, A. Tuazon and Imelda Avenue. The flood-water coming in from A. Tuazon crossing over to Imelda Avenue was like the rapids from a river, the current was strong enough that I had to move slowly inch-by-inch until I got to the pedestrian overpass. It was there that I saw a man carrying his dog, embracing the Aspin over his shoulder, both soaking wet, making their way to a safe place. It was a touching sight amidst the chaos that was happening.
I was almost near Cha’s place, I crossed the overpass to the other side and reached McDonald’s. The flood-water was at my stomach. I thought: “What did I get myself into…” but pushed and said “What the heck, I’m almost there!” As I moved further into Gunting St., the flood-water reached my elbows. I had to cross the intersection of Pitpitan St. and Gunting St. to reach Cha’s place. As I crossed the intersection, there was an MMDA urinal on my left, a guy even joked as he waded through the flood “Umaapaw na ang urinal, haha!” Funny and disgusting at the same time. I was almost at the gate of the compound leading into Cha’s Apartment, there were cockroaches on wall and on the water. I pushed the gate, went inside was at Cha’s place. I called out to her, she wasn’t inside her apartment. Then I heard a response, she was at the 2nd floor, inside her neighbor’s apartment, together with her 2 cats.
I went up to the 2nd floor, glad to see her, Scott and Logan safe. Cha put the 2 full-grown, healthy fat cats into the crate. We decided to make 2 trips outside the gate since Cha will be completely underwater if she steps outside the gate. I gave her a piggyback ride to higher ground outside the gate, then went back and got the crate with Scott and Logan inside, carried the crate over me, resting on my head and proceeded to where Cha was. As I rested the crate over a jeep, we saw a makeshift boat pass by with a woman on top and asked the 3 men moving the boat if they could help us cross over to McDonald’s, that we were willing to pay. They said they will on the way back.
We waited 10 minutes in the flood, soaking wet, trembling and shivering like hell because of the cold. The makeshift boat was nowhere in sight. I decided not to wait any longer and make 2 trips past the intersection of Pitpitan St. and Gunting St. to get to McDonald’s, first trip for the cats, second for Cha. As I carried the crate over my head nearing the crossing, the flood-water was at my chin, and the current coming in from A. Tuazon into Pitpitan St. was alarmingly stronger than before. Lucky enough, the current was going towards Pitpitan St. and McDonald’s. I was able to reach McDo and left the cats on the seat of a public waiting shed by the side of Marcos Highway in the care of a tricycle driver. The water level there was knee-deep.
I went back to get Cha and bumped into a structure in the water that grazed my knee and made me lose my balance, my lips getting a taste of flood-water. .. gross, I spitted like a camel. Anyway, I stood up and made my way towards where Cha was… at the other side of Pitpitan St. when I suddenly felt something crawling at the back of my ear, I swatted it with my hand to the water and to my horror it was a freaking centipede! Thank goodness it didn’t bite me!
I had to get back to Cha. As I crossed the chin-deep river (my height’s 5 foot 11 inches) and reached the middle of the street, I found myself being swept away to where I started, the water current just pushing and pushing me. I tried to cross again, using my tip-toes to push back but to no avail. I tried again, and once again my efforts futile. I felt helpless and frustrated, seeing Cha on the other side, not being able to get to her and help her. It was freezing cold, my voice trembled every time I spoke and shouted because my body was trembling uncontrollably. The water was getting higher; I had no time to lose. It took me 8 tries before I was able to reach Cha. I gave her a piggyback ride back into the chin-deep river of Pitpitan St. and crossed into Gunting St. towards McDo. It was so much easier crossing back because of the current going into McDo.
We got to the waiting shed and to our utter shock, we found the crate being lifted from the water! My heart jumped, thinking the worst… Cha and I hurried to check on the 2 cats… Thank God they’re alive. They were soaking wet, but thankfully, more importantly, alive. The flood-water risen and dislodged them from the waiting shed, explained the tricycle driver. I just looked at him with dagger-looks and went on our way.
It was 3:30pm when we left McDo Marcos Highway. The hard part over, we started walking back towards PARC, walking the whole length of the flooded Marcos Highway, thinking every step we take is a step closer to our destination. The flood-water level along Marcos Highway shifted variably from knee-deep, to shin-deep, to waist-deep, to stomach-deep.
Every once in a while along the long walk back, I had to rest and place the crate on top of a platform that’s not my head or shoulder. There was even a long stretch of waist-deep water that didn’t give me the opportunity to rest, leaving me no choice but to endure the weight of the two full-grown cats either on my shaven head or shoulder for that entire stretch. I even chatted with some people inside a jeepney, some of which are the owners of cars left on the road and have no other choice but for the flood to subside. Having that crate with the 2 cats was quite an attention-grabber, lots of people staring and making comments like: “Magkano aso?” “Buti pa si MingMing, di nababasa!” “Wow, a kitty! Kitty!” “Meow!” “PAWS!” “PAWS!”etc.
A lot of cars were stranded on the road, some were even floating. We were on the lookout for Alex and the PAWS Van, but we couldn’t spot them, so we continued on our way through the flood, my thigh bumping into a concrete barrier hidden from view.
We reached LRT Santolan Station and heard people shouting, it was then and there that we saw a woman drowning! She stepped into a canal in the flood! People reacted quickly, formed a human chain and rescued the woman… an inspiring act of Bayanihan spirit. We then tried to enter LRT Santolan Station so that we can get to Katipunan faster, but they wouldn’t let us because of the cats, they strictly said it was prohibited. I tried to convince Cha to take the train and we meet at PARC but her answer was a firm NO, so we continued on…
Finally! A portion of Marcos Highway that’s not flooded, I thought to myself, the road-level area of SM Marikina and Marcos Bridge. We took a much needed rest there at SM Marikina, and we were seriously contemplating on “borrowing” the SM grocery cart, without telling the guard, to transport the crate with the 2 cats. We weren’t able to “borrow” it though, a lot of people were looking, hehe. Anyway, on with the Alay-Lakad.
On Marcos Bridge we saw scavengers, “opportunists”, and you might even say “entrepreneurs,” fishing out of the Marikina River whatever they could grab, black plastic water containers, washing machines, electric fans, plastics, and other junk you would not normally see in the Marikina River. The junk was within arm’s reach from the river, that’s how close the Marikina River was. I even got close to the railing of the Marcos Bridge and looked down on the river, astonished at how high it got in less than 24 hours. We continued on our way, thinking how close PARC is right now, and hoping that Alex got back to PARC before we did.
We walked…. and walked… and walked… seeing 2 story houses near Riverbanks engulfed by the outstretched arms of the Marikina River, darkness enveloping the landscape except for the headlights of cars stuck in traffic, and people doing what they can in this time of crisis.
After 4 hours of walking (which felt like an eternity), stopping for a minute’s rest every now and then, and wading through flood, rain, wind, we finally, FINALLY reached PARC around 7:30pm. I’m proud to say that never in the whole time I was carrying the crate with the 2 cats did they fall in flood-water or have the flood-water enter their crate. Ricknel, the gateboy, opened the gate for us and we went in. We asked Rick where Alex was and he said Alex didn’t arrive yet. Cha got really worried. Alex forgot to bring his cellphone, my cellphone was in the bag with Alex, Cha’s 2 cellphones were wet and not working, there was no way of contacting anyone and there was no electricity.
Cha eventually broke down with all that has happened… I tried to comfort her in the thought that even if her apartment’s under water, what’s important is that she’s safe, her 2 babies (Kitties Scott and Logan) are alive and well, and that Alex is a smart guy that can take care of himself, he’ll be back I promised her. We then freed the 2 cats from the crate and boy, were they pissed! Wet and cold in an unknown place, but eventually, they settled in and got comfortable. They’re lucky, those 2 cats, and I hope they know we did this for them. It was quite a journey, uncomfortable as it may be for Scott and Logan, but it was the best option we had at the time, and I did the best I could to make their journey comfortable. Cha was quite a trooper, she never walked so far in her life, but seeing her 2 cats making the journey with her has given her the strength to take it one step at a time.
I went home to my family and 10 dogs Saturday night around 11pm, Cha spent the night there at PARC, and Alex arrived at 6am the following morning at PARC, safe and sound, then went home to his family. He really waited diligently for us at Santolan, that’s something I’ll never forget. I promise to make it up to him. There was no more heavy downpour that Sunday, but the aftermath was clearly seen in broad daylight: People had mud all over, evacuating from their flooded homes to evacuation sites or nearby relatives, helicopters flying around, vehicles trapped and left on the road… But what was also clearly seen was the generosity and kindness of people who experienced the deluge and the people sparred from it, giving and donating what they can.
It was on that Sunday, with the instructions of Elsie Araneta and Anna Cabrera (PAWS Directors), that Cha and I made PARC a “TEMPORARY ANIMAL EVACUATION SITE for RESIDENTS of MARIKINA CITY.” We were able to take in 2 dogs and 2 cats that day, the dogs coming from owners of Provident Village, one the areas most badly hit by Typhoon Ondoy.
It gives me peace of mind knowing that Cha, Scott and Logan are safe at PARC, and that Alex made it safely back to PARC and eventually to his family.
This experience has been a first for me, and I know there’s a lot of people out there with stories similar to mine, if not more inspiring.
A message for Alex Solon: I owe you one man, I’ll make it up to you. You waited for me and Cha even with the water rising, I’ll always remember that.
A message for Elsie Araneta and her two girls who brought food to PARC Sunday: Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and generosity!
And this last message is a plea for donations to all concerned:
Please, donate what you can to the PAWS Directors, Staff, Caretakers and Animals whose homes were badly affected by Typhoon Ondoy. Here’s a list of what they need:
1. Used Clean Clothes.
2. Canned Goods.
3. Bread and/or Rice.
4. Drinking Water.
For the animals:
1. Cat Food;
2. Dog Food;
3. Old Blankets/Towels;
4. Medicines (Antibiotics, Injectable Sedatives, Dextrose, Cefalexin, etc.)
5. Basins and Pails
6. Zonrox, Detergent and Liquid Soap.
You can drop your donations at:
PARC- Aurora Boulevard, Katipunan Valley, Loyola Heights, QC (http://parc. mefindhome. org for map and directions). We are right at the boundary of Marikina and Quezon City.
Contact Nos.: (02) 475-1688; 0917-7931097
Thank you in advance for your kindness and generosity.