Kindness of strangers swells with watersBy Jeannette I. Andrade, Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As he plucked residents marooned on roofs, volunteer rescuer Emmanuel de Jesus’ thoughts would drift to his five children and his own home threatened by floods.
But the knowledge that his kids were safe would bring him back to harsh reality—that in a matter of seconds, people’s lives at Barangay (village) Bagong Silangan in a low-lying area of Quezon City depended on his tired hands.
A resident of Bagong Silangan himself, De Jesus was one of many volunteers who sprang into action and saved residents trapped in their houses for ignoring flood warnings.
Some were total strangers to him. Others thanked him profusely, while a few even had the gall to scold the rescuers “for taking too long.”
“I just don’t pay them any attention. It’s useless to argue in that kind of situation,” the 43-year-old De Jesus said Wednesday.
He said he and three other volunteers saved 48 residents in nine trips to the stricken barangay.
Bagong Silangan, which was badly hit by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009, has three critical sites—Areas 5, 6 and Sitio Clementia.
Rowing against current
At Sitio Clementia, floods from an overflowing river reached as high as the third floor of houses in less than an hour on Tuesday.
De Jesus recalled the rapidly rising floodwaters when he inspected his community, warning his neighbors to flee.
“The barangay captain called our team, the Police Hotline Movement Inc. (PHMI), to conduct rescue operations. By 9:30 a.m. the water had reached the third floor of some homes,” he said.
Armed with a small boat, his team worked from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., retrieving stranded residents on rooftops and those clinging desperately to trees.
As they were rowing against the current, each rescue trip took more than 15 minutes.
Numbed by the cold, De Jesus tried hard to focus on people crying for help. Some shouted themselves hoarse while others used whistles to catch their attention amidst the blinding rain.
A drink on the roof
When the Philippine Daily Inquirer chanced upon him on Wednesday, the rescuer wore plastic bags on his feet as he got several cuts from stepping on roofs and rough surfaces.
Subsequent shifts from PHMI, the police and Army reservists took over rescue and relief duties on Tuesday evening.
De Jesus noted that while people were more prepared and willing to evacuate now than during Ondoy, some were still stubborn and insisted on keeping an eye on their homes.
“Some men were drinking on their roofs and invited me for a drink, saying, ‘Sir, this is for warming your body.’ Much later they were shouting a different tune, ‘sir, pa-rescue!’” he smiled ruefully.
So far, the barangay has no reported casualties. In 2009, nearly 80 died in flashfloods, which swept away entire homes.
“Back then, everyone was caught unprepared. Now, I believe we are better prepared, that’s why there are no casualties so far,” he said.
He pointed out that people had been so traumatized by the Ondoy floods that some left their houses at the first warning.
There were others, De Jesus said, who shrugged off the alert.
“If you ask me, during Ondoy, around 70 percent of the residents were stubborn. Last Tuesday, they were just 10 percent,” he chuckled.
Once rescued and in the confines of their boat, the hard-headed ones did not get off lightly.
“We scolded them for being too stubborn and not heeding warnings. Some reasoned out that they were guarding their houses. We simply asked them what was more important, their possessions or their lives?” he said.
For De Jesus, helping others is his personal advocacy. In fact, his wife Aileen also helped in relief efforts. His five children sometimes play with children who lost their homes to flashfloods to cheer them up.
“I will never get tired of extending my hand to other people in need. For me, there are no words to describe how I feel whenever I help my neighbor,” he added.
At Barangay Damayang Lagi along E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, volunteer Mariano Alcen was injured in the left knee while on a rescue mission and was told to stop or risk contracting leptospirosis, a disease caused by rat urine.
He had accompanied a group of Navy personnel on a rubber boat that rescued on Tuesday some 50 children and elderly residents of the barangay. “We wanted to get them all but the alleys on those blocks are narrow, the rubber boat could hardly move and night had already fallen,” Alcen said.
This was how he was injured, he pointed out, saying that he had jumped in the water to free the stuck boat from a jutting piece of metal that had punctured the small vessel and his leg just below the knee.
Navy Lieutenant Victor Jacinto told the Inquirer that on Tuesday they had to handle irate residents who wanted to get off the second floor of their homes as soon as possible. “We had to explain to them that we had to prioritize the people on their roofs. Although we wanted to save all of them, we only had two rubber boats available after four of them were punctured,” he said.
His rubberboat team, who was led through the flotsam by Police Officer 2 German Sumanoy, rescued 400 persons.
Coast Guard Ensign Mizar Cumbre said his rubber boat team had to make 16 round trips to and from Barangay Dona Imelda, near the corner of E. Rodriguez Sr. and Araneta Avenues to rescue some 300 people and ferry them across eight feet of floodwaters.
He said that they encountered turbulent waters caused by the inflow of the swollen San Juan River but they had to cross to get to the elderly and the children who needed help.
“The children were crying. They looked so pitiful and helpless that we knew we had to save every one we could reach,” Cumbre said, adding that it was what kept them going.