When a new friend in Manila asked me to go walking with her at 5.30 a.m., I was aghast. Good heavens, I thought, if I am even conscious that early, I am still hunched over my English Breakfast tea, trying to peel my eyes open with the steam from the boiling water! Why on earth would anyone walk that early anyway?
A year later, when I was bored to death with the gym and the cross-trainer, she asked again. This time I accepted the challenge with alacrity.
When we started, it was still dark for the first two laps, and I suddenly saw the point of getting up at the crack of dawn. It is always humid in Manila, but at least at six, the sun is low in the sky and not pounding the top of your head. And it’s a great way to start the day. We walked and talked, two mornings a week, for about 6 months. Recently my walking buddy moved to America, so I now go walking on my own. I have to say, while I am missing her company, I am actually enjoying it. I have the gall to walk clockwise round the block, in defiance of an unwritten rule that everyone should walk anti-clockwise. But it means I get to smile and greet everyone I pass, and in the Philippines, that’s a lot of smiling!
The last week, however, I have had to concede defeat. In Manila, we have had almost two weeks of tropical storms, typhoons and mesocyclones . (I had never even heard of a mesocyclone till today. Apparently it is a rapidly rotating air mass or vortex of air, within a thunderstorm, up to 80 kilometers in diameter that often gives rise to a tornado.) Anyway, the result of this continuous onslaught of high winds has been endless driving rain and severe flooding throughout the northern Philippines, and it has most definitely put an end to walking anywhere, except laps of the apartment.
Up here, we can afford to be blasé. We have joked about arks and air matresses. On the 32nd floor we need not fear flooding, and we have a great view of the seemingly endless thunderstorm that has been lighting up the sky all evening, like fireworks at New Year. Our building has a generator so an electricity supply shouldn’t be a problem. I can still reach the supermarket to fill a shopping trolley with food and water when necessary. Our car is big enough to take on any of the minor flooding Makati has to offer. The children are safely at home, as all the local schools have closed. I must admit, it was a tad annoying that the boys returned to school for barely two days after weeks and weeks of summer holiday, and this morning I could only manage one lap of Rockwell before the slight drizzle gave way to more torrential rain, and I was forced to retreat to the gym.
So it seems almost surreal to imagine that across the city, thousands and thousands of people are struggling to survive through what, for me, has simply been an unusually wet week in the middle of the wet season.
Typhoon Saola struck the Philippines just over a week ago, since when, according to international news reports, more than 50 people have been killed.
Below us, we have been watching the Pasig River swirl higher and higher. Fortunately the levee was heightened the last time the river broke its banks, so with any luck the water will be contained this time. And I can’t see houses and cars floating downstream as I am told happened during Ondoy in 2009. Nonetheless, across Manila, residents are being stranded on rooftops and in high rise apartments as water levels continue to rise, neck-deep in places, while those in low-lying areas are being warned to evacuate immediately. Strong currents are washing cars and trucks along roads converted into rivers by the heavy rains. Reports say 60% of roads in Manila have been flooded, and many of these are impassable. A state of calamity has been declared in seven of Manila’s cities.
There has hardly been a break in the deluge in three days, and there is more to come. All over the city rescue services, charity workers and, well, everyone, is rushing to the aid of flood victims. Money and food is being distributed around the country to feed and clothe over 80,000 refugees who have been washed out of their homes, and forced to shelter in churches, schools, and community halls. Electricity has been turned off to parts of the city as floodwater continues to rise, which makes it hard on those wanting to stay in their homes, despite the risk. Eventually, when the water recedes, it will be a monster-sized job to clear up the mess.
I’m not posting photos or videos here – there are plenty of both to be found on the internet already – but if you are sitting safely at home in front of your computer, comfortable, dry and well-fed, spare a thought at least for thousands of Filipinos whose lives have been totally overturned by an unusually wet week in the wet season.