No power, no drinking water, and little help

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 September, 2009, 12:00am

Raissa Robles is the South China Morning Post's long-time correspondent in the Philippines. Her family is just one of the thousands struggling to cope with the weekend's floods

As I write, my bedridden 85-year-old mother, my brother, his wife and their toddler son and newborn daughter remain trapped on the second floor of their home. They have no electricity and no drinking water.

I had once thought quaint the name of their gated community - Riverside Village, in Pasig City, Metro Manila. The implications of the name only became clear this weekend when the Pasig River swiftly and catastrophically burst its banks.

As of yesterday afternoon, the ground floor of their home was still flooded with two metres of murky, foul water. That is somewhat better than on Saturday, when the water level climbed halfway up their stairs. They had gathered blocks of styrofoam, should they need to make a desperate getaway.

On Saturday, when rain fell on Manila like a waterfall, I hit the phones for help on their behalf. But all lines to the National Disaster Co-ordinating Council were engaged.

Though I live 30 minutes' drive away, the community, like much of Manila, was reachable only by helicopter or boat. I could not even phone them because the only mobile phone they had working uses a rival network. I stayed in touch via a cousin who called another relative who used the same network.

But yesterday, the mobile phones went dead.

And so, in desperation, I phoned a congressman who used to play chess with my late father. Roilo Golez was once a naval officer, and the navy had boats, I reasoned.

Golez was kind but frank. Nothing could be done at this point, he said. It was every person for himself. He said his own sister was trapped in her home in the same village three streets away from my family.

Yesterday morning, I received a text message that Golez forwarded from his sister in Riverside Village: 'We're safe here. Staying at second floor. Water level still lampas tao [man-deep] inside the house. We will try to get whatever canned goods we have downstairs. Battery low.'

She and my relatives are among the lucky ones. Hundreds of other families yesterday were still huddled in their wet clothes on rooftops waiting for rescue.

Consider the pitiful lot of my cleaning lady, Violy Bartolata. She was in tears as she recounted how her rented shack was swept away down Katipunan Creek, along with everything she owned. Her daughter barely escaped by punching a hole through the roof. They lived just 10 minutes away from me.

Only a block from our house, floodwater covered our neighbours' cars and filled the ground floors of their homes.

I feel guilty and thankful we were spared this time. As a teenager, floodwater swamped the ground floor of our home in Quezon City, in suburban Manila. My sister, a maid and I were the only ones home. I don't know how we managed to heave the refrigerator up to the second floor. It took three men to bring it down when the waters dispersed.