Almost each and every day, for the past six years, Ingrid Roxas sticks to her evening routine - at about 6 p.m. local time, she cosies up to her computer, logs onto Skype and calls her mom and 12-year-old ‘baby sister’ to wish them a good morning in the Philippines.
It was during one of these daily chats, in September 2009, that Ingrid’s mother spoke about her preparation for the upcoming rainy season; the roof had to be mended and windows resealed - regular annual maintenance stuff.
There was also talk of a storm brewing at sea. This was a concern in Manila, but not overly – rain and wind were nothing new in a country accustomed to the seasonal onslaughts of nature.
“Each year we get crazy typhoons, and there’s always floods. We knew a storm was coming, but we didn’t know how bad it was going to be,” said Ingrid, from her City of Calgary office, where she works as a business analyst with the Water department.
Weather reports indicated a violent tropical storm was approaching, and fast. But the furious winds that caused a deluge of flooding were expected to be more violent than usual.
Back in Calgary, Ingrid relayed her concerns to workmates. One of them, Jared Serviss, an Emergency Management professional, encouraged her to email The City of Calgary’s ‘Flooding in Calgary’ guide to her family because, he said, it was chock-full of “potentially life-saving information,” such as how to assemble an emergency kit.
That next evening, Ingrid was relieved to hear her mother had not only assembled an emergency kit for herself from the Calgary flood guide, but also for Ingrid’s grandmother and uncle’s family, who live together 45 minutes away from their family home, in an isolated, industrial part of Manila.
The day after that, on September 26, 2009, the Philippines’ wettest, most violent typhoon in memory hit land.
More than a month’s worth of rain fell in 12 hours as what was called Tropical Storm Ketsana slammed ashore, gulping-up entire islands and triggering one of the worst floods in decades, submerging much of Manila.
“I was frantic with worry – I couldn’t get a hold of anybody. I only got information from news on the TV and Internet,” whispered Ingrid, still upset from the ordeal.
News images showed vehicles being swept away and people scrambling to gain purchase atop cars, rooftops, or in a tree. Those who lived in the hardest hit areas perched on rooftops that appeared to float in the filthy sea water, desperately attempting to grab the hand of a neighbour caught in the tides, waving their arms frantically for help.
After a few days, Ingrid noticed her sister had made brief cell-phone updates on Facebook with pleas for people to contact the Philippine Red Cross for rescue and life boats they needed help or if family members were missing.
“I was worried my family was trapped on the roof or in the attic. We’re they even at home?” she asked. Ingrid was beside herself worrying about her aging, frail grandmother, who lived with a diabetic uncle’s whose mobility was limited by a wheelchair, and his family.
What Ingrid learned a few days later both horrified and relieved her. Her mother and sister were safe on the second floor of their home, able to eventually communicate with authorities and in relatively good spirits despite losing their life’s possessions that were left soaking wet and caked with mud on the ground floor.
Her uncle and grandmother on the other hand lived through a nightmare. They were able to muster the strength to assist each other to the third level of their home, escaping the rush of water on the lower levels. Their children (and grandchildren) were nowhere to be found - as it turns out, one was trapped at work and the others at the university - all safe and sound. For two days, Ingrid’s grandma and uncle were trapped in the attic, without food, limited water and no contact with the outside world.
“And all they could do was blow a whistle and hope for a rescue,” said Ingrid, explaining how the emergency kit was hauled up from the second level to the attic, narrowly beating the approaching water.
Two days later, Red Cross workers, scouring the area in a paddle boat, heard the high-pitched sound of a whistle.
“My Grandma said that nobody would have found them if it wasn’t for that whistle,” said Ingrid. “Now my whole family uses the City’s Flood Guide checklist and keeps an emergency kit in each home on the top floor.”
Over 300 people were left dead by the storm with billions of dollars damage. According to a CBC article, in the storm’s aftermath, the National Disaster Co-ordinating Council said the homes of almost 1.9 million people were inundated by flood waters, with nearly 380,000 people brought to schools, churches and other evacuation centres.
Ingrid is sharing her story, with hopes this information can help other people understand the importance of preparing for an emergency.
For donation information please visit the Philippine Red Cross and if you’d like a copy of the Flood Guide or 72-hour Emergency kit information please visit Calgary.ca/flooding
Here is a video of how to assemble an emergency kit and another of cars being swept away in Manila.
*** Images from doctorswithoutborders.org, CBC, philippinestyphoon.org,
***Ingrid Roxas and Jared Serviss peruse a Flooding in Calgary guide.