‘Everything was destroyed. You need to start all over again.’

Climate Disaster Project

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‘Everything was destroyed. You need to start all over again.’

LOOKING BACK. When Tropical Storm Ondoy inundated Marikina City in 2009, Medina Sta. Ana's biggest fear was her children being swept away in the floodwaters. 'We could not help but cry,' she says.

AC Dimatatac

In her own words, Medina Librando Sta. Ana tells of her family’s survival and recovery from Tropical Storm Ondoy in September 2009
by Medina Librando Sta. Ana, as told to Alexandra Elicano

Medina Librando Sta. Ana, also known as “Gina,” is a 53-year-old mother of three. A wife, a sister, and a grandmother, she draws daily motivation from her family.

She has worked as a manicurist for almost 30 years. Living in the Balubad settlement in Barangay Nangka, Marikina City, she recognizes life is not easy for many of her customers and keeps her services affordable, despite rising prices due to inflation.

Gina was originally from Calumpang, a neighboring barangay, but her family did not own land there. When local authorities requisitioned their area, Gina and her neighbors were relocated to the Balubad settlement in 1997. Back then, it was a vast land with only a few houses and a sweeping view of the Marikina River. 

Today, many families live in Balubad, in houses built right next to each other. Their homes stand near the river and are at risk if it bursts its banks and causes flooding during torrential rain.

The night before the flood, I saw a huge clump of cockroaches on the bathroom wall. Little did I know it was a sign that a devastating flood was to come. My youngest son just turned seven. September 25 was his birthday. There was a celebration, and everyone was having fun.

The following day, the rain started and did not stop. I was washing clothes at a neighbor’s house when my friend told me, “Gina, the floodwater has already reached the school!” When I got home, the water was already there. I woke my children up and we quickly moved our things to the second floor. However, with the water rising so fast, every single thing we moved higher was still damaged. 

When the water reached the second floor, we no longer had anywhere to go. We had to break a hole in the wall and move to a higher house next to ours. The water continued to rise and we were trapped in our neighbor’s house without any sort of bridge to a safer place.

There were two other families on the roof with us at the time. We were five in our family. The other family had four members, plus my sister-in-law, pregnant with her third child. All of us on that roof were praying hard, asking: “Lord, why is this happening to us? Can we still make it to a safer place? Please help us get to safety, Lord.” It was during Tropical Storm Ondoy that I first experienced crying uncontrollably due to the fear that my family and I would not survive. 

The people around us eventually found narrow plywood for us to cross to the other side. We began to cross, holding on to a piece of rope. We were up against strong winds and rain. We could not help but cry over the thought of our child being swept away by the wind, falling into the rushing water, and being found somewhere far away. My children were still so young. My youngest was just 7 years old.

By 11 am, we were already on the roof, but it took us so long to get to the evacuation center. Our clothes were soaked, but we could not change into anything else because everything we tried to save from our house was also wet. 

However, the aftermath of the flood was the worst. We were left with no food to eat and no water to drink. All of us were hungry. I could not stand that my children were hungry, but I could not do anything about it. We could not buy or get food anywhere because all our homes were flooded. We also could not sleep a wink because the evacuation center was filled with people. Only the children could lie down while we parents sat down. Sit, stand, sit, stand. We could only check if the floodwaters were going down.

Face, Happy, Head
Photo by AC Dimatatac

When the water subsided the next day, my husband and I went to see our house. It took us a long time because the streets were covered in thick mud that reached our knees. On the other side of the street, we saw cars, furniture, trash. Everything was there. All of the cars were upside down. 

When we reached our home, I could only cry. All of the things we moved up to the second floor were covered in mud and could no longer be used. Everything was destroyed. You need to start all over again.

When I went up to the second floor, the mud was at the level of my thighs. It made me wonder where all the mud came from. Some say it was from the mountains that people ruined and quarried. It came down on us: the muddy waters and huge trunks of wood that laid in the middle of the streets. One even ended up on my mother-in-law’s roof and destroyed their house. 

The rushing water also carried away our heavy metal locker. Unbelievably, all of the religious statues on top of it remained. That’s what struck me the most. I prayed and thanked them for still being there. I thanked God that even after everything that had happened, our family was okay. 

It was undeniably a difficult time for us, especially on the day after Ondoy hit. I had to work night and day just to clean what was left of our home. Dealing with dirty mud almost every day, my fingers were covered with wounds. 

When the flood subsided, blessings began coming in. Every day, morning, afternoon, and night, we received donations. The government also helped us a lot. We were given so much food that we could open our own store. We were also given cooking pots, plates, and utensils because all of our things were soaked in mud and had to be sterilized. 

City, Road, Street
Photo by AC Dimatatac

However, I soon realized that even after we had cleaned for a whole month and experienced such a traumatic event, there was something more painful that could happen. On October 18, my sister-in-law was about to give birth. She told me, “Ate, please take care of my children.” She arrived at the hospital, and then in just a few moments, we lost her. It was the most painful and unforgettable experience for us. We did not only lose everything we owned to the flood, but we also lost someone we love. Once you have experienced the worst, you just have to be tougher. I even asked God to keep me safe and strong because I still have children, grandchildren, and siblings who depend on me.

Each year, it floods in Balubad, which is why a dike that started construction in 2018 has already been a huge help for residents. When the water reached 18.5 meters in September 2022, we did not experience any flooding. I just hope the dike is finished soon. This is all the more important because we have developed a phobia toward extreme flooding. When the first alarm is raised, we can no longer sleep. When it hits the second alarm, we have to move our things to a higher location. 

We may have lost so many, but at least we were able to survive Ondoy. We were given a new chance in life. Despite going through something so tragic, we are still here, continuously fighting each and every day. – Rappler.com

This story is part of a series of oral histories of climate disaster survivors, told to student journalists under the Climate Disaster Project, an international teaching newsroom based in Canada, in partnership with the Campus Journalism Lab, an initiative by professional Filipino journalists to train campus journalists and publications. Rappler is publishing this series ahead of COP28 in Dubai.

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