Filipinos Reeling but Resilient after Storm

(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
The long narrow road leading to Bagong Silangan, a village in a Manila suburb, has no trace of the epic flooding that hit the Philippine capital last Saturday. But what awaits at the end of the road is a clear case of a humanitarian crisis. In a covered basketball court, 30 dead bodies, including children, lie alongside evacuees that number more than a thousand.

Anthony Ignacio is grieving the loss of his brother, Rolly, who died saving people's lives.

"Even if it meant risking his own life, he willingly helped save others, I'm proud of him," said Ignacio. "But it's sad especially because he left four children."

Ignacio did not just lose a brother in the flood though; his 11-month old baby is among the 38 from the village that are still missing. He said there were four children with him at that time, and so he had one of his neighbors hold his baby, but the current was too strong and the neighbor lost grip of the child.

"But I'm not losing hope. There's always hope," he said.

Victoria Tutor, also a resident of Bagong Silangan, is not as optimistic. She lost all four of her children - three are still missing, and one has been confirmed dead.

"All I want now is to be able to give my child a proper burial. But I can't even get anyone to get my child's body," said Tutor.

Fernando Balbiran, a village leader, says that in all his 40 years of living there, he has never experienced this kind of flooding. But tropical storm Ketsana dumped twice more rains in 12 hours than Katrina did over three days, and flooded 80 percent of the Philippines' capital. No one really expected it.

Across Southeast Asia, Ketsana has killed more than 300 – at least 246 in the Philippines, 74 in Vietnam, and nine in Cambodia.

In Tatalon, Quezon City, fire broke out as water rose several feet high.

"When we heard that fire broke out, we tried to go down. But then it was all flooded and we were scared to be electrocuted. The water was already neck-deep," said Mary Ann Telleros, whose two children almost drowned as they made their way to an empty factory.

Seven people died, including a pregnant woman. It's not clear whether they died from the floods or from the fire. Telleros and hundreds of others are seeking shelter at a nearby elementary school.

Today, as international aid and donations from Filipinos all over the country started pouring in, massive relief operations are under way. U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney, together with the Philippine National Red Cross, set up a soup kitchen and gave away relief goods in Tatalon.

Hundreds of people who have had little to eat and nothing else to wear other than what they had on last Saturday waited in line, and while serving soup, Kenney said, "Look at them, they're still smiling."

"The Filipino spirit to me is amazing. The spirit of getting back on your feet, of helping others, I think it's a model for many others in the world," she said.

During the height of the floods, when rescue workers did not come, they helped rescue each other. On Facebook and Twitter, Filipinos have been organizing their own relief efforts. Even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo opened the Presidential Palace for evacuees.

But in evacuation centers across the city, where close to 380,000 are sheltered, conditions are squalid. People sleep on cold concrete, share a few bathrooms, and have short supply of relief goods.

The stench coming from all the dead bodies lying in Bagong Silangan's evacuation center and the lack of clean drinking water has been making some of the children sick, according to Balbiran. When food and other relief goods do come, people scramble and fight for the limited supply.

Even middle and upper class communities, which normally never get flooded but were not spared by the wrath of Ketsana, are still struggling to recover from the tragedy.

Liza Lorraine Tiu, a resident of the upscale Talayan Village, could not believe how fast the water rose. Within a few hours, the whole first floor of their house and eight of their cars were completely submerged.

"We tried to save whatever we could. The shoe cabinet fell on my husband as he was trying to get our shoes," said Tiu. "And it was really hard to think because we had a baby to worry about."

And while some parts of Manila and outlying areas are still flooded, and relief operations have just gained momentum, a strong typhoon just entered the Philippine area of responsibility. President Arroyo has ordered an evacuation of the most flood-prone areas.