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Malabon, located just north of the capital Manila, is so flood-prone it’s known as the “local Venice.”
As a resident of Potrero, a low-lying neighborhood in the city, Jenifer Fabre, 39, and her family have survived many floods but sometimes have little money to repair their home or replace lost items. She works in a factory making sandals, and her husband Cezar works at home. They have four children between 4 and 19 years old and live with Jenifer’s elderly parents.
Jenifer’s family had faced typhoons before, and nobody was worried on the day before Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009. “It was the usual Malabon. It was noisy outside, people were on the streets doing their respective businesses, and the children were playing,” Jenifer remembers. “Nobody was panicking about the typhoon.” But within hours, Jenifer would be fighting to save her home, care for her two toddlers, and keep her elderly parents safe during a deadly typhoon.
When Tropical Storm Ondoy landed, it wasn’t as strong as it eventually became. We are used to flooding in our area, but the water usually recedes quickly. During Ondoy, we thought it would be a simple flooding situation, nothing more. We never anticipated that it would be so severe and devastating.
The rain gradually intensified and the water reached a certain level. We lifted some of our belongings to the upper floor. We lifted them one by one, and I took charge of carrying my young children first, followed by their grandmother.
There were no people around because everyone was inside their homes. In the lowest-lying area, they shouted “rescue” just to escape. You could see that they were evacuating. They were asking for boats to leave their homes because the floodwater was already above human height.
We were not able to fully prepare and stock up on food because we did not expect the rainfall to be that strong and the water levels to rise so high. Those in nearby homes were also shouting, “Is there food there?”
My father asked for food because he was hungry, and there were still children with them, including a newborn. He did everything he could to find even the smallest thing, like an egg or a pack of instant noodles, along with some coffee to warm his stomach. There were no stores around. The neighboring house used to be a store, but they couldn’t sell anything because their goods were scattered due to the constant need to secure them from the rising water.
My father climbed onto the rooftop, but the roof where he sought refuge eventually succumbed to the rising water, causing him to slip. We were filled with fear and panic at that moment because we were almost swept away by the strong floodwaters. My husband jumped into the water to rescue my father because he knew how to swim. We panicked and shouted for my father, fearing for his safety in the strong current. We thought he might not make it.
When it was time for us to evacuate, there were no boats available because the rescuers were already tired and it was getting dark. It smelled bad because the water was dirty. It was not like the usual flooding here. It was really muddy, and there was a lot of garbage, and it really smelled bad. We didn’t get help when we needed to evacuate. We had to rely on ourselves to find a way to leave our house.
Meanwhile, our neighbors were able to get on a boat with the help of some people. Due to the immense water flow, the boat capsized. Fortunately, they managed to survive.
We relied on neighbors who had makeshift rafts made of styrofoam taken from old refrigerators, and helped each other one by one. Only one person at a time could ride on those rafts because they might sink suddenly. Fortunately, our neighbors were really helpful and supportive.
The day after Ondoy, when the flood subsided, there were people giving out assistance and organizing queues to distribute relief goods. Not everyone received aid, and you had to line up. You had to line up for rice, Lucky Me noodles, and sardines. The usual items given during floods were given during Ondoy.
Neighbors talked about where they ended up, what they experienced during the evacuation, the food, the difficulties when they were evacuated from their homes, and how it looked when they returned home. They chatted, and some laughed, but that’s just how life goes.
All our belongings were put outside because it was muddy. All our belongings got wet. Some things were swept away, and we had to let the flood take them. We now prepare our belongings and avoid bringing things that would overcrowd our home so we don’t have to struggle when a storm arrives.
I always remind my children to stay informed about the news. This is important because my husband and I are working and our children are left at home with one of our seniors. I always remind them that if something happens and they are alone, they should stay together, even if it means leaving their belongings behind.
The important thing is for them to be safe and have food that they can eat at home. When it comes to food, we are really concerned about ensuring that we never run out, especially rice and mineral water.
That’s why I try to prepare as much as possible, even though I don’t have a lot of supplies. I have some essentials stocked up just in case they get hungry. When it starts raining heavily, they know they can call me because I’m always at work. I also make sure they have their vitamins and our seniors have their medication. We have rearranged our home to maximize space. We don’t buy unnecessary items; we only get what we truly need. It’s not like before, when we had to have this and that. Now, we only focus on what is necessary for our daily needs – food and a place to sleep.
We share the same experiences with our neighbors. They prepare like us, but if they don’t have enough supplies, then they have nothing. Some rely on assistance. They will evacuate their homes, especially those in low-lying areas. Our neighbors without a second floor immediately panic when there’s flooding.
There should be seminars for residents to educate themselves on what precautions to take. Currently, the barangay provides warnings, but they are lacking in effectiveness.
It would help if every area had similar arrangements for assigning rescuers, regardless of the day or night. We understand they get tired, so there should be a round-the-clock rotation system because disasters occur not only during the day but also at night.
Additionally, it would be ideal if they could provide boats in areas frequently affected by floods. During disasters, we don’t have access to emergency and rescue equipment that is readily available for everyone to use. Instead of having to constantly make requests to the local government authorities during disasters, it should be available and accessible to everyone.
Take a proactive approach where the needs of certain areas are already known. Surely, it’s not just about climate change, right? It’s also about the discipline of the people. – 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.