Stepping back

QUEZON CITY-I stepped back to escape the wind-shoved rain on the balcony at the third floor of Bangko Mabuhay rural bank headquarters in Tanza, Cavite.

Messages of typhoon Ondoy's devastation flooded my mobile phone inbox Saturday. It was only three o'clock in the afternoon but sun rays stayed blocked by a curtain of rain.

The skies poured water equivalent to a month's rainfall. My wife Patricia's message said Manila's main thoroughfare, 33 kilometers east, has morphed into a river.

My two friends agreed there's no way the Nissan Patrol we rode on can beat the torrent of water gushing forth to reach the lowest level it seeks.

Drowned in whiskey and worries over my family and friends, I slept in the clothes I wore.

It was only nine o'clock but the weight of the day's events pushed me over to REM and the ocean of alpha waves. The singing of guests three doors from our room was also drowned out by the rain that slashed the glass window at the second floor of a second-class motel we checked into for the night.

The trip back to Manila via Binakayan, Bacoor, coastal road, and EDSA bared Onyok's strength. Piles of trash thrown into the water were pushed ashore. Borders that separated houses and rivers and creeks were erased. People waded in ankle-deep brackish water over side streets.

The sky was blue and the sight was clear as gigantic tarpaulin ads lay crumpled like wet tissue on the base of steel structures. The air that swept inside the SUV was refreshing -crisp like newly-ironed cloth, pure like a baby's breath, and soft like freshly-washed cotton linen.

Futher east of Manila, however, the air reeked of death, despair, and devastation.

Maybe that's why we were able to tolerate the loss of power in our house for 24 hours. Each member of the family in UP Diliman were accounted for and, except for my uncle, were spared the torment that fellow Filipinos suffered.

The irritation over cut power supply was only because we failed to turn on the television and share the grief, though marginal, clutching hundreds of families -father, mother, son, daughter- since Saturday.

At least, I thought, my two daughters were spared from the disturbing images of children pinning their hopes on a clump of garbage to survive. They didn't.

At least, I thought, the black out steeled me from what those images could have done to my psyche had I've seen them upon arriving from Tanza, Cavite.

It's been three days now, but the images of fellow human beings who have lost their lives and are at a loss over their lives remained haunting.

My mother still try to spare the children those images -she watches the news only sparingly. But we asked them to help gather the clothes they can spare for their less fortunate cousins in Marikina.

We also explain that while some things like nature's power remain daunting, there are some things like political will remain wanting.

If we can calculate that stepping back can help us escape the wind-shoved rain on a balcony, we can surmise that good planning can help us avoid tragedy that a typhoon like Ondoy innocuously brought to bear on our people.

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