As I watched the news on television and silently prayed for the people in Japan (I have relatives living there and they are safe, alhumdulillah) my own encounters with calamities, albeit of a much lesser magnitude, began flashing through my mind. I have lived in the Philippines long enough to experience earthquakes, floods, and typhoons that uproot trees and send someone’s roof flying over to the next town.
I do not remember each one of them, but I do recall that each encounter was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Early 2000 in the Philippines…
I was staying over at a friend’s place, along with a few other classmates, to study for an upcoming exam. It was a few hours past midnight when we first felt the ground move. Few seconds later the shaking got stronger: empty chairs moved across the room on their own, cabinet doors flew open, a flower vase crashed on the floor, books fell down from the shelf. I heard the creaking sound of wood as we hurriedly made our way outside the house. I was a student, miles away from my family, and the thought scared me. The earthquake lasted a couple of minutes. We stayed up the entire night, worried about an aftershock. In the morning, we drank a gallon of coffee, took the exam and passed.
A Year Later…
It had been raining continuously for three days. On the fourth day, I woke up to the news that classes had been suspended due to flood. “What flood?” I thought, parting the curtains and looking below from my third floor window. There was water everywhere. At that moment, the power went out. A few hours later there was no water in the tap. My roommates—a girl my senior and another a freshman doing bachelors in pharmacy—started packing their bags. “The water level’s not going to come down anytime soon,” the senior said, “so we’re going home.” I didn’t want to be left behind in the dark with no water and limited food supply so I packed my bag too.
It was two in the afternoon by the time I was on road looking for a ride to the bus stop. I was waist-deep into the water, walking carefully least I fall into an open manhole. I was surrounded by several other people, mostly students, who also wanted to get home to their families. I worried, among other things, about all the microorganisms happily floating about ready to infect me with a thousand and one diseases.
An hour later I saw this type of tractor approach us, the kind of vehicle where the engine was located high enough so that the water didn’t reach it. The kind man volunteered to drive the students up to the bus terminal. I climbed on immediately, grateful to be out of the water.
It was total chaos at the bus station. There were hundreds of desperate students and only a few buses. I eventually found myself a seat on a bus and was so relieved that I wanted to cry. “We can’t guarantee we’ll reach on time,”announced the driver. “In fact, I can’t even say if we can make it to our destination today because all the roads are blocked and bridges submerged in water.” Then he added, “But let’s try to get you all home.”
It was a long and frightening eight-hour journey (normally four hours). We drove very slowly, specially since one can’t really see where the road started or ended. I saw furniture being washed away, people sitting on their rooftop with their children waiting for the water to subside, and stranded people begging for our bus to take them in (except that the bus was already overloaded). I finally reached home safely to my family. It wasn’t wise of me to travel in that situation, but there was only one thing in my mind then: to be home.
Have you experienced an earthquake or a flood? What was your experience like? It is a very difficult situation for everyone, a time when man is completely defenseless against nature. May the Lord Almighty protect us all and keep us safe.