Lifelines in the great flood
As Metro Manila descended into chaos at the height of Typhoon Ondoy, it is worth asking what things kept on working and provided vital lifelines to people stranded in flooded city streets and are clambering up the roofs of their homes?
A couple of things quickly come to mind: your cell phone, media, the LRT and rubber boats.
Cell phones kept people connected during the crisis. People were busy calling and texting to inform their families of their whereabouts and their plans to go home. Field personnel of media and government agencies relied on their handhelds to call in the latest reports. Government leaders were interviewed via their mobiles while on the move.
People became 'instant' reporters, capturing and sending images via their mobile phones – images that were picked up by media and ended up in news reports, read and viewed in blogs and personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, helping tell the unfolding tragic story to the rest of the world.
But mobiles mattered most in the hard-hit areas of Marikina, Pasig, Cainta and the towns of Rizal. There, cell phones were a matter of life and death. Families stuck on roof tops repeatedly called and sent text messages to their relatives who in turn called the authorities and others desperately asking for help.
The situation became dire because the floods knocked out of commission many cell sites in the affected areas. The only operator left standing was Smart. Though their own network in the flood areas had been hurt by the floods, somehow Smart kept its signal going. So people on roof tops shared Smart mobile phones so that they too could make calls to loved ones.
Immediately after the flood, Smart set up Libreng Tawag centers in Cainta, Marikina, San Mateo and Pasig and gave the people there a chance to call relatives and friends here and abroad to seek help or just to say they were safe.
Broadcast media was important because they provided a lifeline of information. At first, people tuned to live radio reports to find out if their way home had already been blocked by floods, traffic or both. TV news were filled with video footage of vehicles struggling to traverse flooded streets and people walking waist deep, or, swimming in pools of water. Later in the day, the reportage took a grim turn with accounts of people being trapped in their homes as flood waters continued to rise. Reports kept coming from people calling or texting desperate pleas for help from local and national authorities.
The surprise winner of this crisis must be the light rail transit systems that crisscross the metropolitan area. This was highlighted when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took the LRT 2 line because that was the only way she could get from Malacanang to Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City to attend a command conference of the National Disaster Coordinating Center.
Towering high above the flooded streets, the LRT and MRT systems were the preferred, or, if not the only way of transportation. It carried hundreds of thousands of commuters who would otherwise have remained stranded where they stood. The trains were also used by emergency authorities to ferry rubber boats and other rescue equipment to flood-hit areas.
And those rubber boats. Much sought after and desperately short in supply, they were the most valuable equipment in town. Flood waters quickly submerged entire subdivisions and residential districts. Small yet powerful enough to move in streets that had suddenly become raging rivers, these boats enabled rescuers to pluck people off the roofs of their inundated houses. The word is government agencies are revising their budgets to include allocations of rescue boats. We may soon see many more power boats parked alongside SUVs in the homes at exclusive subdivisions. @
As of September 30, 2009
SMART Libreng Tawag Centers (free calls and charging of cellular phones)
1. Barangay Barangka Hall in Marikina City (September 27 to September 29)
2. Ever Gotesco Mall in Pasig City – until today
3. Cainta Municipal Hall – until today
4. Pasig Elementary School – ongoing
5. San Mateo, Rizal – until October 1
6. Montalban, Rizal - until October 1
7. Arayat, Pampanga – ongoing
8. Lambakin, Marilao, Bulacan - ongoing
Relief Distribution via the PLDT-SMART Foundation, with assistance from employee-volunteers of SMART, PLDT and Tollways Management Corp.
1. Barangays Barangka and Tañong in Marikina City (9/27/09)
2. Barangay Maysilo in Malabon (9/28/09)
3. Tatalon, Quezon City (9/28/09)
4. Barangay San Isidro, Cainta (9/29/09)
5. Marilao Municipal Hall in Bulacan (9/29/09)
6. San Mateo, Rizal (9/30/09)
7. Evacuation center at San Juan Banyo in Arayat, Pampanga (9/30/09)
- conducted by PLDT Medical Services, Makati Medical Center and Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital at the Barangka Barangay hall in Marikina City, Felix Memorial High School in Cainta and Guitnaang Bayan 1 Gym in San Mateo, Rizal.
1) Via SMART Money -- SMART Money accountholders may help victims of typhoon Ondoy by donating to the PLDT Smart Foundation Inc. (PSF) Ondoy-Smart Money account. Text ONDOY <amount> to 270 for only P1 per transaction. Or go to your Smart Money menu > purchase > mpay > store code (ONDOY) > pay from > choose card > amount > confirmation (OK) > enter W-Pin.
2) Via RED CROSS -- SMART subscribers may help victims of typhoon Ondoy by donating to the Philippine National Red Cross via text. Text RED <amount> to 4483 for free. Only the donated amount will be deducted from your current load. Donations in P10, P25, P50, and P100 are accommodated via this SMS facility.
3) DONATION IN THE FORM OF RELIEF GOODS may be turned over at the following SMART Wireless Centers: SM Muntinlupa, SM Bicutan, SM Sucat, Festival Mall, Ali Mall, Gateway, SM Fairview, SM North Annex, ATC South Mall, and Megamall.
On SMART Libreng Tawag in Cainta
"Maraming salamat sa SMART libreng tawag. Kung wala sila, hindi namin mapagbibigyan alam ang mga kamag-anak namin na buhay pa kami, kagaya ko sa Dagupan pa ang mga kamag-anakan ko. Ang mga magulang ko sa Dagupan at mga kapatid sa Dubai at Hongkong nag-aalala sa akin, buti nandiyan ang SMART at madali kong nasabihan sila na kahit nasalanta lahat ng gamit ko, buhay naman ako."
"Wala pa ring kuryente hanggang ngayon kaya kung walang libreng pa-chargean dito, di rin namin makukuha ang mga numbers ng mga tatawagan namin. Maraming salamat talaga sa SMART."
- Junior Bona, 49-year-old construction worker from Dagupan.
Just renting a house in Cainta together with his cousin.
"Sobrang napakalaki ng tulong sa amin ng SMART. Kahit na kabilang network ang gamit ko inacommodate pa din ako ng SMART para makalibreng tawag sa mga kamag-anak namin sa Cavite at Bulacan kasi nag-aalala na sila sa amin kasi alam nilang nagbabakasyon lang kami dito ng mga bata."
"Malaking pasasalamat ko talaga sa SMART sa pagbigay ng libreng kumunikasyon lalo na ngayon na maraming nangangailangan. Hindi sila umaabuso porke maraming nangangailangan kundi libre pa ang serbisyo nila kahit abroad ang tawag at hindi nila pinipili kung sino ang tutulungan, kahit (Globe)."
- Rachel Yukawa, 39-year-old Filipina who is now living in Brazil with her family
(Brazilian husband and 4 kids). She's in the country with her four kids for a vacation.
"Salamat sa Libreng Tawag ng Smart. Natawagan ko ang pamangkin ko sa Mandaluyong. Susunduin na nila kami. Salamat!"
- Gemma Despabiladeras, Cainta
On medical mission
"Maraming salamat din sa medical mission ng SMART. Kasi kung wala yun wala akong mapagdadalhan agad ng anak ko na nagkadiarrhea. Dahil sa medical mission ng SMART natugunan agad ang sakit ng anak ko. Libre pa ang mga gamot at mababait ang mga volunteer doctors."
"Siguro kung wala ang SMART, walang makakabigay agad ng tulong sa amin dito sa dami ng mga biktima na tinutulungan ng pamahalaan. Magandang serbisyo ito ng SMART. Ibi-bless sila lalo kasi instrumento din sila para i-bless ang kapwa nila."
- Renante Esmero, Cainta resident
On relief distribution in Sitio Halang, Barangay San Isidro in Cainta
"Nagpapasalamat kami sa SMART at PLDT na nakarating pa sila sa sitio namin kahit sa dulong-dulo na para lang bigyan kami ng tulong. Sobrang laking tulong itong mga pagkain at inumin na dala nila kasi nong Sabado pa kami walang kain ng maayos at lalo na maiinom. Kawawa ang mga bata, kasi kahit mga tindahan sarado pa rin hanggang ngayon."
- Joan Juego, 39 years old, Mother
"Hanggang leeg ko ang tubig dito, buntis pa ako. Buti na lang tinulungan ako ng kapitbahay namin kasi nasa trabaho pa ang asawa ko nong biglang tumaas ang tubig at gumuho ang pader ng katabi naming subdivision. Buti puro sugat lang ako. Tumawid pa kami sa lumber para lang maligtas, nasugatan lang ako at muntik nalunod. Nagpapasalamat ako na nabuhay ako at nailigtas ng mga kapitbahay ang 2 kong anak."
"Maraming salamat sa pagdating dito at pagtulong SMART at PLDT. Kung hindi dahil sa inyo marami pa sa amin dito ngayon ang walang makain."
- Dowana Angustia, 26, mother of 2 and eight months pregnant
"Puro nilagang kamote at saging lang kinakain namin simula nong Sabado. Pinagsasaluhan naming magkakapitbahay yun para lang makatawid ng gutom."
"Masaya kami na nagbabalik ng tulong ang SMART at PLDT sa mga subscribers nila, hindi nila pinipili mahirap man o mayaman. Kami dito talagang sinadya pa para lang mabigyan ng tulong. Napasaya niyo po talaga kami sa gitna ng kahirapan namin at malungkot na dinanas dulot ng bagyo. Maraming maraming salamat SMART at PLDT."
- Virginia Bacao, 38 years old
"Maraming salamat po sa SMART at PLDT at dumating sila dito sa amin nakatulong po ng malaki sa lugar namin. May makakain na din po kaming magkakapatid."
- Jizelle Ferando, 8 years old
"We want u 2 know, dat I hv bin in d hart of Cainta & did rescuing in Provident Marikina & I carry PLDT wireless, Smart, Sun & Globe. The only fons dat worked 90% of d time during our distress calls wer Smart & PLDT wireless. Thnku for d reliable srvce we got. God bless."
"Smart & PLDT wer d only 2 fons dat realy got us thru. Until now… Many hu hv oder servcs hv 2 use sum1 elses Smart. I talkd 2pipol witing on der roof undr d rain, talkd 2 dos hu hv nothing mor up in der 2nd floor strandd & scared w no fud, electrcty, no landlines. Major help. Dis ar facts."
- Honi, a rescuer