Words by Ana Catalina Paje
One of my earliest memories was getting picked up from bed in the middle of night and spending the rest of it in a Mormon church because our house was flooded. The power was out. The wind was howling, and the rain was coming from everywhere.
In my small town, children do not get to celebrate class suspensions from storm signals and alert levels on volcanic activity. At an early age, these dangers are made known to us.
The house I grew up in has a wide yard that would fill up with rainwater every time a typhoon hit, which was quite often. As a small child, I didn’t quite understand why there would be fish in the floodwater in our home. I thought that it came down as the rain poured. I asked my father, who explained to me how drainages and canals work, how we lived in a low-lying area.
Growing up, we had a system. We would pull out the bottom drawers on our shelves and place them atop chairs and stools. We had a small wooden footbridge from our front door to the gate. We had waterproof plastic containers for all our clothes. You could see water lines on our furniture and walls and anything below that would have to be lifted. Many people in our town had generators, but we couldn’t afford one, so every lightbulb in our home acted as an emergency light that would turn on as soon as the power went out.
But nothing quite prepared us for Supertyphoon Reming in 2006. I was fourteen then, and in all of the typhoons we had to endure before, Reming was the only one that made me fear for my very life.
The first day I went outside, I saw the body of a girl my age, muddied, stripped down to her underwear, being pulled out of the debris.
At the town plaza, a little way beside the huge machine that was pumping drinking water for evacuees, there were about twenty to thirty dead bodies lined up on top of black body bags, like they were crops that needed to be dried. If nobody claimed them as relatives in the next few hours, they would be placed inside the body bags, thrown inside a truck, and driven to the mass grave at the cemetery. Then a new batch of dead bodies would be lined up.
We had lost power for two months. Food, even potable water, was hard to get by. Trucks with piled dead bodies would drive past our home every afternoon. I will never forget that stench of rot and dirt.
No later than a week after the storm hit, I saw hoards of people running towards the hills behind our home. There were so many. Some were on foot. Others inside overstuffed vehicles. All frantic, all confused. Some thought they were running away from a tsunami. Others thought they were running from lahar. Others thought they were running to a relief mission. None of them were right. Many valuables were lost in that scare. Houses were broken into. Stores were looted. This was the first of many mass hysterias that happened in our town.
Months later, when school started again, the numbers that we heard on the radio began to have faces. The horror stories were given names.
The total number of deaths was estimated at 1,200. But as someone who has lived through it and known of entire families being washed away, with no survivors able to report them as missing, I know the actual number far exceeds the estimate.
This should not be a story of strength and resilience. It is a story of government incompetence and negligence. It is a story of environmental neglect. It is a story that should never happen again.
Photo from Earth Observatory – NASA
Anca Paje is a BS Development Communication alumna who believes in the butterfly effect. The decisions we make now, will lay the foundation in which our grandchildren will live.
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