Image: Philippines home
Chakka Bakunawa
This is our living room on the top floor of our family home. This is where we moved the belongings we could save, and where some of us continue to camp out. My cousin, Chakka, took this photo.
By
updated 10/5/2009 3:07:55 PM ET 2009-10-05T19:07:55
FirstPerson

Editor's note: msnbc.com has been asking readers affected by the Philippines floods to send in photos and reports. Diana Veloso, who is from Manila, sent in this FirstPerson account. If you would like to contribute reporting, submit it here.

Cleaning and clearing operations are in full swing in many places in Manila, including my family’s house, which got submerged in 14 feet of water on Sept. 26. I will forever remember this as one of the most harrowing days of my life.

I did not sleep on the eve of the disaster, since I've taken to spending nights writing and revising my dissertation. I remember the relentless downpour and the unusually loud croaking of bullfrogs outside my window (in hindsight, the animals were probably sounding off about the impending deluge). I continued working until sleep mercifully took me over at 7 a.m. Four hours later, I woke up to the sound of my family frantically yelling. “May baha (There’s a flood),” my niece gravely told me.  I stepped out of my bedroom and gasped at the sight of furniture floating around in our garden.

At first I thought that the wall separating our garden from the creek behind our house had cracked. I would later find out that someone had opened the La Mesa Dam, which is located near my neighborhood. The dam was opened to prevent it from breaking, but the downpour and the water left 80 percent of Manila submerged in less than six hours.

It was so surreal to see the murky brown waters quickly rising until they were a foot shy of the second floor of our home. My older sister told me to start carrying some my things to our covered rooftop, which also serves as the top floor of our home. I was hoping that the floodwaters would stop rising, but I acted quickly: I grabbed my laptop, printer, camera, cell phone, other electronic devices, sacred dissertation materials, personal documents, diplomas, photo albums and picture frames.

Image: House after the storm
Chakka Bakunawa
Our house the morning after the storm.
My niece, whose room on the first floor flooded completely before she could even save anything, helped me pack my clothes. My older sister helped me carry some of my books.  I silently moved my belongings to the top floor as the water continued to rise every five minutes.

In less than an hour, the flood had taken its toll on the second floor. I waded through the chest-deep water, dodging a lizard and a frog in the hallway and the baby snake outside my window. It was quickly getting dark, and my father had shut down the main power source in the house earlier to prevent anyone from getting electrocuted. 

Help and prayers
Several children from the slum area beside our house appeared out of nowhere to help my older sister and me rescue our belongings.  They were there to pin down my bookcase just as it started bobbing up and down in the water while I grabbed some CDs, DVDs, and photos. I cannot thank them enough for their assistance, and it both touches and humbles me to realize that they helped my family get through this very trying time. They themselves were unable to salvage anything from their houses. 

At around 4 p.m., we all gathered at the living room on our top floor, waiting and praying for the floodwaters to recede.The rain continued to batter the sliding doors, and my mother grimly warned us that if the waters rose any higher, we would lose everything. She suggested that we pray the rosary for all the typhoon victims.

My father supervised our helpers in cooking rice so that everyone could have something to eat that night. My aunt and uncle dropped by later in the evening, wading through the flood, which remained above waist-level, just to bring us some food. My sisters' boyfriends showed up bringing drinks and food.  My family — and extended family — were all camped out on the rooftop. This literally saved our lives.  We were joined by 16 other people: our driver, his wife and their 12 children, and two neighbors — a nursing student and a doctor — who crossed over from their roof to ours. Our house quickly became a refugee camp, as many other neighbors found shelter with us.

Fears of the next storm
The next day, the water receded and we began to clean up the house. We received and continue to receive help and support from relatives, family friends, significant others and even old flames (none of them mine, for the record). All of last week, reports about the tail of Typhoon Parma possibly hitting Metro Manila on Friday, Oct. 2 worried us to no end. We were more prepared: We stocked up on food, first-aid items, and flashlights, and put away anything that could be damaged (again) in the event of another flash flood. The latter typhoon changed course and spared Metro Manila, although my heart goes out to the people from the affected regions.

My family incurred massive property damage: Most of our appliances, cars, important documents, and even precious photo albums got submerged in water. We had to cancel my older sister's bridal shower. She is getting married at the end of the week and we now have to figure out alternative accommodations for our guests.

Despite all this, I feel blessed that I survived the disaster and that no one from my family got seriously hurt. Others were not as lucky — some lost their lives, loved ones, and/or everything they owned. I have only to remind myself of this reality as I try to cope with the aftermath of the storm. I’m continuing to help out with the work it's taking to restore our home, while trying to recover from feeling a bit sick and traumatized.

Veloso is an international Ph.D. candidate studying sociology at Loyola University in Chicago. She is currently at home in Manila working on her dissertation.


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