to save or not to save (Ondoy series part 4)

If there’s any tough realization I can get out from this experience, it’s knowing that you can never really be prepared for a disaster. We were foolish to think we were prepared enough and that we knew what to do. We really did underestimate the forces of nature. I realized this when the water level was inches from our mezzanine floor. Then I started to freak out. If the water went up some more we would have lost a lot more. Luckily it didn’t.

In the midst of a disaster, flood in this case, the two most important things are to keep sane and remain alert. If you panic and you don’t think straight you either lose everything, lose everything and die, or lose everything and die in a few days. On the other hand, if you keep too cool, you’ll find yourself in chest-deep water without having saved anything. You choose.

flood begins

Our rescue team was composed of Father, Turo and Yaya. Brother was stranded in school and was able to go home after walking waist-deep floods the next day. I was in charge of making sure that my children didn’t drown in flood water and of course, documentation. Mother was in command post. Although Father, the complicated man, gave some orders on his own.

the command post

The rescue team was pretty efficient. We were lucky to have enough manpower at home during that time. There some striking lessons we learned from this experience which I want to share. Should something similar happen to you, I know some of these points, if not all, would be helpful.

Know what’s in your house. Every house, whether big or small, must have a million drawers or shelves or racks to store things and keep them relatively organized. You, as house owner, should be aware of the contents of all your storage areas. This information is particularly critical when deciding which cabinets’ contents should go up first. There’s obviously not enough time to get everything up.

giant horse deliberation

Remember your physics. The law of buoyancy will help you simulate what will happen to your possessions if you leave them to be flooded. Everything will float. But some will keep floating. And some will sink again. If you decide to leave a cabinet-ful of porcelain plates, be prepared to pick up broken pieces the next day. The cabinet may float, but will fill with water and go down again, first with a thud, then with the smashing sound of your china. For light items that you want to save, you can wrap them in plastic so they don’t get wet and place them on top of styro boards, basins or plastic containers. Make sure there is enough weight so the floaters remain stable even when there is water current but not too heavy to make it sink. For heavier items, better find higher ground for them.

law of buoyancy

Do first-aid. The rescue team had the additional task of helping out the neighbors who only had one male in the house. When the stuff at home seemed pretty safe, they rush to the neighbors’ house to help them raise their heavy appliances. And then rush back to save more stuff now being reached by the rising water. Pretty intense, I tell you. In the middle of the back & forth rescue operations, and with the water level rising faster than usual, some of the appliances got wet. The gas stove, coffee maker, juicer, microwave, rice cooker, to name a few. In such cases, never lose hope. Even if electronic items were submerged in a few inches of water for quite a short period of time, they can still be revived. Transfer the wet appliances to dry ground and wipe the surface. Open them up and air-dry the motors or whatever device there is to make it run. After a few days, screw them up together and test if they work. Luckily, they still will.

Dirty flood needs cleaning up. We almost forgot to save the laundry bars, detergent powder and dishwashing liquid. They were already wet when Turo placed them in a floating pail while trying to rescue other stuff. Do remember to save cleaning materials. Aside from soap, secure your cleaning brushes, mops and brooms. Post-flood will definitely require cleaning up. And when your cleaning supplies just happen to float away, you either get stuck in all the germs or spend three hundred pesos for an ordinary cleaning brush. Painful but true.

curtains used to be white

There are also some small but valuable tips to keep in mind, especially if you’re planning or in the process of building your home:

  • Keep your main switch in the upper floors. Ours was in the ground floor and was submerged. We had to replace the entire thing so we could enjoy the benefits of electricity.
  • Don’t invest in upholstered furniture or those made out of plywood. I’ve seen a lot of cushions and sofas out in the streets that are now useless after being soaked in flood water for more than a day. Yuck! Most of our furniture were made from hardwood so they just floated around unharmed. But one of our shelves was made from narra ply and out it goes. Plywood weakens in water, too weak that it can’t hold most of your stuff anymore.
  • Organize your storage rooms for easy evacuation. We thought our storage room was pretty organized because everything there was boxed up with labels on them. Strangely, all those small boxes took so much time to bring up one by one. Most of the boxes got wet in the process. After the flood, we decided to buy stackable plastic drawers where the previously boxed stuff were transferred. They now fit nicely into our storage room and are much easier to take from one place to another.
  • Keep your important documents together in one place. Ours was in a filing cabinet in the mezzanine floor so it was safe. But if water got to the mezzanine, I’m not sure if I would have been able to save all of them. Birth certificates, insurance policies, land titles, deeds of sales, warranty cards, are among the documents that you need to secure. I still haven’t but plan on buying a waterproof bag for all our important papers. If you keep your important documents in a vault, remember that they may be fireproof but are usually not waterproof. My cousin in Marikina tried to bring their vault up but it was too freakin’ heavy to carry. Of course she should have just opened the vault and get all the documents out, but panicked as she was, she couldn’t remember the combination. Goodbye vault.
  • Keep your cupboards high. Having our cupboards against the ceiling was one of our saving graces. We left the cupboards as they were since there was hardly enough time to get every item and bring it to the higher floors. Luckily, the top shelf was not touched by the water and a lot of the items were saved.
  • Regularly check your possessions and give away or throw away stuff that are not useful for you. Almost everything we can buy these days have its function. The important question to ask is do you have any use for it? Refrain from buying stuff you don’t need. If they were given to you, politely refuse them or give them to somebody who might have better use for them. I cleaned up Father’s bodega after the flood and threw away 2 sacks worth of stuff that you usually see in Handyman stores. Some were even unused with price tags still on. I can imagine Father’s expression when he saw bote-dyaryo kids feasting on his bodega treasures.
  • Segregate your wastes. We always separate dry from wet wastes. We collect recyclable materials and bring them to the recycling project run by Mother’s NGO. We keep food leftovers in clean containers which a man running a piggery collects every morning. After the flood, most of our garbage are dry garbage (that unfortunately got wet) so they didn’t smell even as up to this day, we still have no garbage collection. The only perishable wastes (those that would smell) we had were those left in the refrigerator which had gone bad because there was no electricity. Thankfully, two days after the flood, Mr. piggery man began collecting kaning baboy again.

what goes wet must go up

As for my last tip, which is something that our family takes effort to live by, is this…

Simplify. Live by the basics. So that when disaster strikes, you can save the basics and you survive.


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