Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our TS Sendong Experience (December 17, 2011) by Renato G. Tibon

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Below is a TS Sendong experience, a written testimony of a Sendong Survivor Renato G. Tibon, from Bangon Kagay-an and Kagayan Kaniadto Community Chat...

Our story, when our turn comes among survivors relating their own ordeal, always pales in comparison to the others for lack of impact or climactic finale. Listeners’ attention more often is riveted at stories of near-death experience or scope of destruction or accounts of survival holding on for dear life as raging waters buffeted, pummeled or swept them to far-off places or even towards open seas all the while contending with thirst, hunger and potentially poisonous snakes, themselves vying for positions on floating trees or logs they shared. As terrified and bewildered victims might be while looking for ways to climb up roof or trees or high-rise structures, the stories became so commonplace, they’re often lost in the cacophony of excitable voices competing for the audience’s attention. To anyone who cares to listen, we relate our frightful albeit familiar TS Sendong experience but we highlight more of our narrative on divine intervention, how God mercifully spared our lives giving us signs, seemingly insignificant at first, but which hit our consciousness full force in the light of the horrible tragedy which befell others not as fortunate. I wrote this story at the request of our CFC Pastoral Formation Director R. Ponte, a member of the IC, as a testimony of our harrowing experience which, although not emotionally engaging, the imprint of God’s saving act would not be lost on the reader.

We lived at Emily Homes, a subdivision astride two barangays, Macanhan and Balulang. Our one-storey house is located along the river banks, about 150 meters from the edge of the waters, a little bit elevated than our nearest neighbours. During the previous flood in 2009, waters from Cagayan River rose with the high tide, but even with the rush of floodwaters coming from the hills at the west side which we normally experienced during heavy downpour at the entrance gates, the highest level never reached our portals. Thus, even as warnings were aired on TV and on radio of the coming typhoon bearing signal number 2, like most Kagay-anons, we took the news lightly and slept our head off, blackout notwithstanding, unaware that even as early in the afternoon of that fateful December 16th, waters have risen alarmingly and that others who correctly interpreted the signs of impending disaster have already left their homes.

Ever since I and my wife joined CFC, I became prayerful and recited the rosary after every ACTS, a formulaic prayer method taught by the community, every morning and in the evenings even when I slept early on and have to wake up to say my prayers at 12 midnight. But nothing prepared me for the shock of my life, when, awaken by the noise coming from my daughter’s adjacent house, I stepped out with the waters already ankle-deep. I roused all my already sound-asleep family members, my wife, eldest grandson, youngest son and his wife next to our 5-month granddaughter, and made out for the door, already heavy with the current pushing it inward, carrying only an umbrella I plucked on our way out, 3 jackets (thankfully clustered over a hanger) and, as an after-thought by my son, one box of diapers. We hopped over the hood of our car, onto the side railings, straining against the tough clotheslines which I managed to untie, pushed up my son’s wife first up the roof, then the baby, followed by my wife, my grandson, then me clambering up with my son at the heels. All the while, raging waters, coming from every direction, terrifying in their noise and rush, were closing in on us, waist deep, then neck deep and even as we stepped on the roof, the waters kept on chasing us as we crawled and reached the topmost, our final sanctuary. Then disregarding my own safety, I looked over our neighbour’s house and called out for my daughter and her husband carrying two of our grandchildren. It was pitched dark, broken here and there by flashlights beamed by my son-in-law, I couldn’t see well in the absence of my eyeglasses which I left on our bed. They shouted back being safe and sound and so we decided we only had to deal with our own nightmare.

My heart was pounding hard (I was momentarily distracted by the possibility I could have a heart attack anytime), I could not feel breathing through my nose but as we settled on the roof’s edges, all shaken and shivering with the howling winds, totally drenched with the rains not letting up, the noisy waters lapping at our feet threatening to dislodge us, we managed to say our prayers beginning with the Our Father, 10 Hail Marys and Glory Be and then Hail Marys over and over and over, turning our fate to God and asking Mama Mary’s intercession. Even with my deep faith and prayer practice, no other prayer entered my thoughts except the Hail Marys which we let up only when the rains stopped, the winds died down and the waters almost unmoving having reached its peak a few feet from where we sat. The umbrella we brought served to cover our 'apo' while we changed her wet clothes and covered her body with the diapers. We couldn't be more grateful at the foresight of our son. We used the jackets as cover against the rain and only after it ceased that we put them on to generate heat from our bodies. We kept still until 3:30am when our neighbour noticed the water going down, painfully slow but certainly receding. We gave praise and thanks to God loudly after which, we waited out until morning came when we can see the reassuring sharp tips of our fence, the windows of our neighbors’ houses and the rooftop of our car which we thought was carried by the strong current. During this interlude, I never questioned nor asked God why or how come we were dealt with this tragedy. I kept still, remembering His exhortation and accepted my lot even as I begin to realize others may not be as, well, lucky. Looking back, I thought I could have prayed better, but my singular and commanding voice as I directed my family out and onto the roof, then leading them to prayer were all they needed as we said together, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen”. The thought of perishing never crossed our minds. Perhaps, it was the certainty of God delivering us and our faith holding on that even in the face of sure death, we could be at peace within ourselves.

As soon as the water was knee-deep, my son (who, at the height of the flood swam across to help transfer our grandchildren to higher rooftops) and son-in-law went down from their location, walked across the muddy street and went inside our respective homes to assess the damage. True enough, my son reported there was mayhem as everything turned upside down inside the house, full of thick mud with water still gushing out. As soon as he was able to push the door, my son saw the first sign that Mama Mary had intervened: the rosary which I used every day became the first visible item which came out from the mud at the base of the front door. He called my attention to it and I have to ask myself, where could the other two rosary beads I hung with it at the foot of the altar be? They were never found. Of all the other tiny things that compete in racing out of the house, the blue one won! That was the first miracle. Then disregarding the loud protests of my children because of the slippery GI sheets, I too went down although I couldn’t get far from the front door because of the debris and mud all around us. When the door could finally be pushed allowing for entry, I looked around the house looking for my glasses, which thankfully was covered by a pillow and moved only a few inches over our bed and also for my wife’s bag which contained many of her smaller earthly treasures including the Hillfiger watch recently given her for 10-year loyal service to the company we were representing. As I came out of the room, I noticed and was amazed at the sight of our altar in the sala (installed at the center of the main post leading to the uppermost portion of the roof where we sat) still intact together with the image of Our Lady of the Rosary and statue of the Holy family practically unmoved! Then, shivers went up my spine as I saw the Crucifix, made of lightweight ceramics lying on the floor just under the altar. Why it didn’t break nor float along with the other things inside the house nor covered by mud and just stayed face up at the foot of the altar would be among the paradoxes begging for explanations but which I attributed to God as signs. In fact it was the second sign that all along, He had been protecting us. I looked up and realized our location at the roof is almost exactly straight down the point where I picked the crucifix up. As I went out to wash up the Crucifix, it struck me also there could be no way we can toss up my 160-lb wife up the roof even in normal circumstances. My friends said it was adrenaline rush, but I believed there were forces other than our own who pushed us upward. With no clear foothold, nothing to hold onto or lift us up, the edges of the roof sheets projecting, it was sheer miracle no one was injured among the 6 of us nor fell down the murky waters. I thank God for all these divine manifestations which served to strengthen my faith in Him, my Creator, my Savior.

My wife soon after climbed down (using our neighbour’s wooden ladder) and went inside the house herself. Among the first things she noticed lying on the floor almost covered with mud was the NAB bible I was always using in my scriptural readings. Without much thought, she just wiped off the mud and opened the book which, to her surprise, was dry! That was the first report she made to me. I took it matter-of-factly and even went so far as washed the sides and took off the mud, causing the pages to become soggy. But the pages held on and when dried, we were able to still peel off the pages with nary a leaf missing. It came to my mind later that the bible became the third of those visible signs which demonstrated divine intervention in our deliverance.

As soon as the water settled just around our ankles, we allowed the other members of the family to climb down as worried relatives, relieved we were safe, waited for us at the subdivision’s gates. As we filed out, dragging our feet through thick mud, we viewed the destruction wrought by the flood among our neighbours, with collapsed walls and buildings and vehicles piled on top of another. Early on, dead bodies were pulled from inside the houses and news of close friends/neighbours being among those brought uneasiness and dread on the extent of damage brought by TS Sendong. We came out of the subdivision still shaken but not visibly worried. We were even half-amused at how we looked, appearing like zombies with our wet and muddy suits, dragging our sandals and unshod feet through mud and debris. Some kind souls offered coffee and dry clothes which I accepted, hands shaking but grateful for the attention. The full import of what happened to us and those who died, trapped inside their homes, 11 in our subdivision alone won’t hit us until we were settled in the house of my brother in law who offered his home as temporary shelter. Others, less fortunate than us, have to make do with the side streets and makeshift shelters in the absence of evacuation centers. As everyone of my family had taken showers and put on clean clothes (the first of many relief items we received), we gathered round, embraced each other, prayed in thanksgiving and then cried our hearts out for the longest time until every tear dried up. Perhaps, they were tears more of relief and gratitude, but to me, I cried not so much as we’re safe as the thought that many others could not be found or if found, the images were so grotesque and bizarre, I found myself at a loss for the proper words to describe them. In all probability, we could easily be among the victims, among those unidentifiable ones, thrown heartlessly in the dumps, rotten and filled with flies. That should be enough to make anyone rage at the utter injustice and inexplicability of the abandonment of all respect and dignity due every human being, regardless of their status. But God has other designs that we could only bend our knees in humility as we submit to His will. His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts; that much I can understand clearly now. 
Many more tears followed but they were grief mitigated by so much outpouring of assistance, coming from concerned, well-meaning and generous individuals and groups, in cash and in kind which tided us over the days thereafter. We also found and rented a house which could accommodate all 10 of us, including my vacationing eldest daughter, who couldn’t stop crying at the thought, she could be grieving instead for all of us had not been God was so good, saving us. As we counted off, only our dog Mickey couldn’t howl present. She was our lone casualty.  
I know I am strong spiritually but I attended some of those debriefing seminars which followed, hoping to learn and impart the knowledge to my family and to others who may still be in need of managing stress-related symptoms so they could get on with the rest of their lives. I kept all these things in my heart and contemplated the song, Redeeming Love, which lyrics include the line, ‘like a river, like a fountain, like a cleansing flood’. Indeed, God’s love redeemed us and cleansed us and purified us. It was His will that I survived for reasons only He knows. Finding that will then, will be my lifelong mission, in my community, CFC. May God be praised.

A New Beginning...

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It has been more than a month that my family has been homeless. For the first time after Sendong, we went to mass together as a family,  to worship God being thankful that my parents, siblings and my very own daughter were spared when TS Sendong hit our home in Villa Nena 2, Balulang. After a month and a few days, my family now shows signs of "normalcy". At least that is what I have observed now, compared to that very day after they have experienced struggling with the water's currents that almost drowned them to death. That fateful date, December 17, 2011, which disrupted all activities and even sent my parents away from the very home they have built, where 36 years of hard earnings have been soaked in flood waters and covered in mud. But then, like what I said, everything is better now. Everything has already been prepared. The documents now in order, and in two weeks, we are all moving out of my pad here in Macasandig to transfer to that place on higher ground. Perhaps it had taken us all this late to move because we had to make sure everything is settled. Unlike others who immediately were able to transfer to their new place, we had to wait for documents to be ready, for lights and water to be installed, and the list is quite endless. Although this pad is home to me and my sister and daughter, for my parents, and two other siblings, this pad is merely their temporary shelter. It is in this little pad that transition had taken place. It is in this little pad that TS Sendong victims, now survivors, have learned to cope with so many other issues after Sendong struck our home. For awhile, because we don't live together anymore, it seemed that we were no longer one, which actually added to the adjustments that each of us had to go through. But like what I said, today, we have become a family again. 

After mass we went to Lim Ket Kai Center, shopped for shoes at this newly opened boutique which sells American shoes and sandals with really great discounts. Then we headed to Rai Rai Ken for dinner. We have not done that for quite some time. And especially not after Sendong ruined Christmas and the New Year for everyone. So today had been a breather for all of us... it has been rough the past month and the days that went by, but now, everything seems to be normal again. That is, minus the expenses of buying new things for the new house where they will transfer to. I, on the other hand, have also opted to transfer somewhere near them, in case another emergency might happen. It is always nice to be near your family. Because when Sendong struck our home in Balulang, my sister and I were here in Macasandig, and it was only in the morning that we were able to go to them for rescue, to which, they have already done themselves, as the water have already gone down when we arrived..

Here is my personal account of what transpired on December 16, 2011--- the night it all begun.  And as we face a new chapter of our lives, I am hoping that everyone else who have been victims of Sendong and its wrath will do so too... I know it will not be easy, but we just have to keep moving forward.

With this new beginning, I have also bought this new domain, to collate all TS Sendong related stories and experiences of friends, family, and hopefully everyone who has a story to tell  about how TS Sendong touched or devastated their lives. I do believe that by sharing one's story, there is a healing effect. And by reading someone's story, there is a lesson we learn. Do like Sendong Stories at Facebook for more updates and stories..

My family and I would like to thank all the people who helped us get through the rough times, and I posted their names HERE..