Perhaps until tonight, I never got the courage (or whatever it had to take me) to write about the event that did not only change my life but thousands of others. On December 16, 2011, a typhoon called “Sendong” hit Cagayan de Oro. The rain wasn’t as strong as Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, but it was consistent and stayed longer than I’d expected. Little did I know that my expectations were to be challenged that night.
I wasn’t home yet and, late in the evening of December 16, my younger sister texted me saying the flood had reached our house. The mere thought of flood was preposterous; our house was situated more than a hundred meters away from the riverbank and a fair distance away from the hill that usually caused not-so-heavy floods on that side of our barangay. I thoroughly believed my sister was joking or unsuccessfully trying to scare me. Flood was just _not_ going to happen. I told her to make a head count (because I had four younger siblings) and added a little “hehe” just to make sure she got my counter-joke. But then minutes later, she texted me again to say the flood had reached our roof. I seriously got annoyed; that wasn’t one of her best jokes, I had to admit. But only half of me did not want to believe her because the other half was honestly starting to get worried. It wasn’t until my boyfriend and I turned on the radio and everyone was discussing how the water was rising fast at Barangay Balulang. That was where I lived. That was where my brothers and sisters were at that moment.
It did not take me a lot of analyzing to realize the horror of the situation. My sister was right, I was wrong and it was flooding. I was two jeepney rides apart and I didn’t have a portable life-saving boat or raft to get me to my house. I tried to maintain calm, texting them and asking about their current situation. They were at the roof. One of my brothers who is taller than I am was helping our neighbors who were trapped in their homes. To make it short, it was practically impossible for me to sleep. I did not sleep until 7am when my boyfriend and I rode on a motorbike and took the alternative route because one dislocated house apparently blocked the main road towards Balulang. When we reached my house after all the serious mud and the disheartening sight of dead bodies placed for identification at the roadsides, I took a little comfort at the relief of finding my siblings hungry though they were but in tact and safe at the house behind ours.
They were not crying and they didn’t look sad, but they appeared ten years older– everyone in my place did that day. While December 16 was a night of worry, December 17 became a morning of sorrow and inexplicable loss.
Now, as I write this, I still feel my heart two hundred pounds heavier. I understand that everything we have right now is temporary, but losing it all in a blink of an eye brings out so many feelings, thoughts and questions. Did God forsake us? Do we deserve this? Did we do something wrong? Are we ever going to move on? And for some, Will I ever see my brother again? Did I love my Dad enough when he was still alive? Lord, can you please bring back my mother because I never told her I was sorry for all the pain I put her through?
Heartbreaking stories that you thought only ended up in movies or television news happened in real life. One life lost after another. One hope banished before it came true. Everything in pieces like a puzzle that nobody knew how to solve.
After all that rain, teardrops seemed to fall harder. The cry for help reverberated all throughout the city. Cagayan de Oro carried a burden that was so huge, she felt helpless. Yet even grief and suffering are temporary. Maybe we have to take a great fall to realize how strong we are to have stood up despite the pain. And maybe this realization will give us a hint of what we are made of. We are human, we cannot entirely predict the future but we can always work in the present to make things happen, to be better, to heal wounds… and someday, to recover.
Until now, I am still trying to figure out how much time it will take for a full recovery. But then dependence on time is all too risky. There has to be the will to work for such recovery. For if time were the only factor, change will be of no meaning and so would life.
Through Typhoon Sendong, we are reminded once again of the importance of life. Success, wealth and power did not save anyone from the flood. Our humanity cannot be measured by how much we’ve acquired but by how we acquired it. Perhaps life is not just about chasing success or even happiness, but living so that, in the end, we can go back to the Higher Being Who made us, thank Him for the life He blessed us with, and give back to Him what was originally His.