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Pedring, Quiel and God-awful Floods

Those of you who can, watch the news shows – if just to silently commiserate and, perhaps, say a silent prayer for those among our countrymen currently living in a watery hell on the aftermath of Typhoon Pedring. The scenes are surreal; and news crews have begun calling the inundated localities “waterworld.”

Whereas the premise of the 1995 Kevin Costner box office dud of the same title was the melting of the polar ice caps, this local waterworld came about as a result of one of the most destructive typhoons to come avisiting in living memory.

My thoughts as the initial feeds started airing the other night were that I did not seem to remember Central Luzon being so flooded since I was in high school. Memory is hazy now; but I seem to recall having come across an article in a local newspaper written back in the seventies by an American flying out of the country in a 747 who looked out the window and was extremely saddened that she could not tell where the land ended and the ocean began.

A man from Pampanga – one of the countless flood victims – interviewed on television last night confirmed my suspicions. The last time, he said, that his province was so flooded was back in 1972. That would be 39 years ago. To put things in perspective, Ferdinand Marcos was about to declare martial law; and we have had five presidents since.

Some of the news videos are plain heartbreaking; some, on any other day, would be comical. Each and every video clip shown on TV, though, was surreal.

My heart bleeds for the poor farmer whose two children were swept away by rampaging floodwaters. Called to identify the muddied remains of a young girl found after some of the treacherous waters had receded, he could but bend over and bawl his heart out while hugging the lifeless body of his child. And his young boy still missing…

A pair of chicken strutting about on the roof of a two-story house was extraordinary. Ordinarily, the pair would have been foraging for worms or fallen seeds on the dirt surrounding the house; but the waters reached up almost to the second floor. There was no earth upon which to forage for food.

A housewife was interviewed on her way to safer ground, bringing along whatever she could. Asked where her husband was, she could only wearily tell the news reporter, “Hinahanap pa pô ang alagang itik.” How, pray tell, does one find one’s missing ducks in a neighbourhood inundated with waist-deep floodwaters?

In one community, small boats had taken the place of tricycles and kuligligs on the streets. “Walâ pong magagawâ,” one man said, “bangkâ na lang ang pwede…” There was no bitterness to his tone; only resignation. To think that such a scene is something tourists pay for to visit just south of Bangkok. In this community, there was nothing pretty about it at all. It was distressing.

Wherever rice fields were visited by floodwaters, there were farmers desperately trying to salvage rice stalks after the waters subsided. One farmer, showing the few darkened grains remaining from one stalk, told a news reporter, “Mababâ na ang presyo n’yan… Nababad na sa tubig…” I did not even know that, all the while wondering how much he could salvage if most of the grains had been washed away from the rice stalks, anyway.

Then, there were the shoreline communities that were completely wiped out by the storm surge. Two days later, people were still dunking themselves into the dark waters foraging for whatever properties they could recover; perhaps, pieces of wood with which to rebuild their houses and their lives.

“Walâ na pô kaming maiiyak” one woman said. “Nai-iyak nang lahat.” She spoke, I did not doubt, for her whole community. Indeed, you could tell the anguish from the absence of it. It was in the hollowness of the eyes – the bleeding inside; the humble acceptance of the cruel twists of fate that life is capable of dishing.

Man merely reaps what he himself has sown. The irony of the cliché is stark on the tons upon tons of garbage that the waves have seemingly bundled together and continue to dump upon communities along the shorelines. There is no mistaking nature’s retribution when humanity disregards it.

Also stark are the dilemmas facing those who try to harness nature. Dams are built to convert water into energy. Regrettably, dams burst if overburdened with water. Hence, those who manage these dams have no choice but to release the waters before the dams catastrophically collapse. And the waters that are released, as though people’s misfortunes are not enough, find their way into lowlands still currently flooded…

And another typhoon named Quiel heading fast into the same area Pedring so devastated…

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