Autopsy of a Disaster

What went wrong?

While it is true that PAG-ASA told us about the oncoming slow-moving typhoon Ondoy (international codename Ketsana) days before it hit Metro Manila, I wonder why we were not warned of the unusual amount of rain it has brought?

Consider this:  government data tell us that rainfall was abnormally high at 41.6 centimeters, breaking the previous single-day record of 33.4 centimeters in July 1967.    Metro Manila’s average rainfall for September is 39.17 centimeters. In six hours, Ondoy dumped 34.1centimeters of rainfall.  So how come nobody issued a warning that Ondoy is bringing an extraordinary amount of rain when average rainfall per hour has already registered beyond the normal level?


I was in Pasig City that day, 26 September 2009, with colleagues from Philippine Business for Social Progress, as we have a scheduled business advising workshop with a multi-purpose cooperative.  We left Intramuros, Manila few minutes after 9 AM aboard a rented van.  The rain was gentle but relentless.  When we reached Sta. Mesa, Manila, we were not at all surprised to see ankle-deep water in the area.  In fact, it was quite a normal occurence on a rainy day. 

All roads leading to Pasig however, were also flooded.  That was the time that I started to worry but I kept quiet.  We already spent some two hours on the road, snaking through several side streets hoping to find a clear road but to no avail.  After some time, and quite fortuitously, the president of the cooperative called up to say that their place is flooded waist-high already; better to cancel the event.

As soon as we decided to cancel, we found ourselves trapped on the road heading to Pasig City Hall.  Vehicles in our front suddenly stopped, and we saw the floodwater rising.  Our driver has got presence of mind so he backed off, away from the gathering crowd of stranded vehicles.  Then we stopped for brunch, clueless that what lies ahead of us is a “once-in-a-lifetime typhoon”, as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has put it.


Going back to Intramuros was a nightmare.  We decided to take the long way:  via C5 to Fort Bonifacio to Villamor to Roxas Boulevard.  En route, we already saw several motor vehicles on the roadside, as if parked or just waiting for the flooded road to subside.  Traffic situation has turned terrible.

When we reached Fort Bonifacio, we spent one hour on queue to Villamor – Nichols exit.  Our driver decided to take another route (Ayala via Forbes Park) only after a man in bicycle told us that the flood in Nichols- South Superhighway area has reached chest-deep.

In Makati, traffic along Ayala Avenue was light but when we reached Buendia (Gil Puyat crossing Ayala), traffic going to Manila was not moving at all.  We again decided to take another route, this time our driver led us to the Skyway entry ramp near Don Bosco.  We were shocked to see this side of Makati that day:  cars on counterflow, going nowhere and everywhere, it was anarchy in the true sense, flood all over.

We braved the flooded Skyway ramp, only surprised to find out that people have started walking up in the Skyway, going to Bicutan, Sucat and Alabang.  Pedestrians in Skyway was really surreal.  I was no longer worried, I was shocked.  From Skyway, we saw Magallanes and parts of Pasay City all covered with flood water.  I felt safe in the Skyway, something in me would like to suggest that we stop right there.  No flood can reach us this high.


We found refuge at McDonald’s in front of NAIA Terminal 3, after several attempts to negotiate our exit to Manila via Tramo.  Three times we tried, three times we failed.  So we were holed up in McDo with all other stranded motorists.  We stayed there until past 10 PM.  I was fortunate to find a friend also stranded within the area.  Since he lives near my place in Sucat, I decided to transfer car, leaving my PBSP friends and my parked car in Intramuros to fate.  


All those time, we were tuned in to a local AM radio, or at least for most of the time that we were in the van.  Sad to say, there was no coordinated effort or direction given to the public.  It has become evident that our government was not prepared for a disaster.  There is NO plan.  There was nothing but panic in their voice.

At 6 PM that day, I started to spot army trucks carrying troops and rubber boats.  On Sunday morning, I realized that their action was too late, too little.  Many had already drowned and died.


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