Floods teem with tales of unsinkable spirit | Inquirer News

Floods teem with tales of unsinkable spirit

HOPE IN HARDSHIP. Darkness begins to descend on Calumpit, one of the towns in Bulacan hardest hit by Typhoon “Pedring,” in a scene almost hauntingly idyllic no matter the unprecedented flooding. Yet despite the continuing difficulties, residents say they turn to each other to share and survive. RAFFY LERMA

These are stories that show the unsinkable spirit of the men and women caught in the floods triggered by Typhoons “Pedring” and “Quiel” in Luzon.

Enterprise and common sense helped keep communities calm in the face of floods and landslides.


In Ifugao, a man put together a set of plastic barrels to make a raft. He used the raft to ferry government employees when Pedring’s rains collapsed Burnay Bridge, which links the province to towns in Cagayan and the Cordillera region.


Charging passengers P10 for each trip, the man managed to earn P7,000 which helped him feed his family.

It was the same experience for Paulo Alvarez, a carpenter who rented out his wooden banca while carpentry jobs were unavailable.

“You can’t live on relief goods all the time,” said Alvarez, 47, to stress the value of self-reliance.

He charges his passengers from P50 to P200, depending on the distance traveled.

Alvarez said his earnings were spent stocking up on food for the household, especially rice.

Worried about his children’s safety, he has been teaching them and their friends to swim.


Pangasinan’s arks

When it rains in Pangasinan and the Agno River swells and overflows into Bayambang’s barangays, people living near the riverbanks do not have to scamper to higher ground or relocate to school buildings.

They have evacuation centers that they call “arks.”

But these modern-day arks are buildings measuring 25 x 55 meters, or about the size of four basketball courts.

These evacuation facilities are built atop mounds about 3 meters above ground level. They have deep wells, electrical facilities, power generators, kitchens and toilets.

More importantly, they have large holding areas for farm animals and pets, as in the biblical ark.

When Pedring and Quiel struck, more than 500 families sought refuge at their local arks, according to Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) records in Bayambang.

There are 11 such arks in Pangasinan, and 12 more in Tarlac, that were set up in 2004 as part of the DSWD’s Agno flood control project.

The project is a multimillion-peso initiative to tame the Agno River, whose headwaters emanate from the Benguet mountains.

Eight of the arks in Bayambang are in Barangays Pogo, San Vicente, Wawa, San Gabriel I, San Gabriel 2, Manombong Parte, Manombong Sur and Paragos. The neighboring town of Bautista has three arks.

At the height of the floods, more than 500 families sought shelter in tents atop the Apalit-Arayat setback levee in San Simon, Pampanga.

Most of the families were still there on Saturday, including Odette Abenoja, her husband Rosano and their two daughters aged 9 and 7. They have decided to wait for the floodwaters in their barangay of San Jose, still about a meter (or 3 feet) high, to recede.

Abenoja described their refuge near the Arnedo Dike as teeming with mosquitoes and lacking water and electricity.

But the families manage to cope with help from one another and from the town government, which has been regularly sending a fire truck to provide them a supply of water.

In Bulacan, residents stranded in the still flooded barangays said they survived on limited provisions and rain water gathered in basins and pails.

They said neighbors and kin were helping one another to survive the disaster, said to be the worst to hit Central Luzon since the 1970s.

‘Very safe’

Abenoja said she felt “very safe” staying on top of the levee because it was high and could not be reached by waters spilling from the nearby Pampanga River.

“Babo control” (or “on top of the control dike”) is how the residents call their life-saving structure, said Barangay Captain Leonilo Evangelista.

The Arnedo Dike is the old main dike built by the Americans in the 1930s. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) built the Arayat-Apalit setback levee next to it, as a secondary dike, in the 1980s.

But Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda said she was worried about the residents’ safety because the dike and the levee had been seriously eroded and damaged in many parts.

“The [DPWH] has neglected the dike and the setback levee. [It] has allowed so many informal settlers to build houses and plant crops on the dike,” Pineda said.

Abenoja said that for as long as she could remember, her parents, relatives and neighbors always sought refuge on the dike whenever the river swelled.

But the floods this time are higher, she said.

Still, Abenoja has no plan to leave San Jose. “This is where I grew up. There is no other place we can go,” she said.

Abenoja, a college undergraduate, and her husband, a security guard, cannot afford to buy a house in a place that is safe from floods.

And so they make do. Their tent is a blanket, their bed a jumble of cabinets and tables.

She is almost without sleep every night because she has to swat away the mosquitoes swirling around her daughters, she said.

The bad state of the dike and the setback levee and the yearly inconveniences on residents make relocation an ideal option, Pineda said.

Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo has proposed the construction of resettlement sites for families in flood-prone areas in Pampanga. He said this approach would be cheaper than the yearly relief missions.

Waist-high waters

In the hard-hit town of Calumpit in Bulacan, residents said they were wrong in thinking that the floods triggered by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009 were the worst in memory.

Pedring’s floods were twice as destructive, they said.

On Saturday, the roads leading to Barangays Calizon, Bulusan, Sta. Lucia, San Jose and Gugo remained impassable to light vehicles because of waist-high floodwaters.

Boats remained the prime mode of transportation for residents who had chosen to stay put in their submerged houses. But Bulusan council member Ramon Fajardo said relief goods stacked in their barangay hall had yet to be distributed because of lack of boats.

Barangay Bulusan Captain Armand San Angel said many residents of Calumpit were accustomed to floods but never expected that the waters would rise as fast during Pedring’s onslaught.

San Angel said that in times like these, residents turned to one another to survive, with many giving their share of food and water to those who needed these more.

Never say die

Fajardo said he and his family survived last week’s floods by moving to his brother’s house. They stayed on the small, unfinished second floor, where they slept on plastic chairs.

“We slept in a sitting position, with our children on our laps. We looked for tarpaulin sheets and tied these to a tree to protect us from the rain,” he said.

But amid the hardship, Fajardo said, “we never thought that we would not overcome, we knew we would survive.”

There were nights with no food and they sought sleep to forget their hunger. They drank rainwater to sustain themselves.

Fajardo said that when he braved the strong currents to find rice and canned goods for his family, he made sure that his relatives would have something to eat too.

Juliana Flores, 77, and 23 family members had to move out of their house in Barangay Calizon in the afternoon of Sept. 30 because they had run out of food and water.

“We were in a difficult situation, especially because our family has many children and we have an elderly family member who is sick. Our house is on high ground but the floods reached us… We had no choice but to leave so we can survive,” Flores said in Filipino.

She said they hired a boat that collected them on the terrace of their house’s second floor. They ended up in Barangay Lugam in Malolos City, where they found a family who gave them shelter for the night.

“We did not know anyone in Lugam but we knocked on a door. We pleaded that they allow us to stay for the night. We were lucky that the family was kindhearted and sheltered us, a family of 24 people, without asking for payment,” Flores said.

The next day, the family looked for and found another house, for which they paid P1,000 for a four-day stay.

“Some people pitied us and gave us cardboard so the children and the elderly in our group would have something to sleep on,” Flores said.

They were able to return home on Oct. 5.

News of isolation

In Masantol, Pampanga, Marcelo Lacap Jr. refused to abandon Barangay Sagrada and seven other eastern coastal barangays because he was determined to help his neighbors—or more than 500 families.

Lacap, a former vice mayor, was invited by his friends in the City of San Fernando to stay with them while the floods surged.

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He refused and stayed on along with his family. It was through him that the provincial government, nongovernment organizations, the Church and the media learned about the isolation of the eight eastern barangays of Masantol, according to Rowena Quiambao, principal of the Tarik Soliman High School in Sagrada, which was also inundated. With a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

TAGS: Agno River, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Weather

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