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Malabon’s forgotten evacuees

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Text and video by VINCENT GO, VERA Files

MALABON City—While evacuees in other parts of Metro Manila have gotten quick attention and assistance, residents of flooded areas in this city say they have been trapped in evacuation centers with little food, clean water, and aid from rescue and relief organizations.

Although floods have already become a part of daily life with waters rising when the high tide flows in and sometimes causing yearlong floods, residents were unprepared for the torrential rains brought about by the southwest monsoon last week.

People living by the riverbanks lost their homes and belongings, and are still squeezed into evacuation centers. Seventeen of the city's 21 barangays remain submerged in filthy floodwaters.

The only other time this happened was during the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Arlene Fabelando, 26, who has lived her entire life along the banks of the Tullahan River, lost her home for the second time, the first during Ondoy. She is now at the Potrero Elementary School that serves as a temporary shelter to more than 500 families living near the river.

Jonabel Bascal, 25, narrates how it was impossible to go against the current to escape the rampaging waters as it was filled with debris. As the water rose early Tuesday, they had to climb to their roof and scale the high walls of the adjacent compound to escape the floods.

Fernando Diaz, 48, was already rebuilding his home from the debris he had collected. He has resided here since 1972, making a living as a construction worker earning P350 per day, if there is work to be had.

Living with the floods is already a daily part of life here, Diaz said, "When the tide rises we are submerged at about ankle deep water. When there is heavy rain, it's about knee deep. This was the second time we were forced to evacuate from our homes in all my years here along the river."

Informal settlers who have built their homes in Dulong Hernandez, Barangay Catmon, said it was really impossible to evacuate at the height of the downpour on the night of Aug. 6. The shantytown's narrow passages became a death trap as waters raged throughout the community. The only thing they could do, they said, was climb to their roofs, hope the water would stop rising, and wait to be rescued.

Several rescuers in rubber boats eventually came and brought them to the Catmon Integrated School currently serving as temporary shelter to more than 240 families.

The Malabon evacuees are pleading for help. They have had little food and almost no other clothes except those they wore when they were rescued. They also lament that so much attention was given to other communities, while nobody has even come to their aid after they were rescued.

Jenelyn Agas, 24, says this experience was worse than Ondoy, when the water subsided as fast as it rose, and they were able to start again after two or three days.

But with the deluge caused by the recent monsoon, they have been trapped for four days now at the evacuation center and have had very little food and clean water. Yet they could not return home because the community is still submerged in water.

(VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)

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