Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Twittering disasters

THE world was watching as the flash floods brought about by tropical storm Ondoy drove thousands of Metro Manilans to scamper for safety in their rooftops or swam to higher grounds. In minutes, SMS that carried texts, videos and photos were transmitted to relatives and friends abroad. And twitter rattled numerous twits of alarm and pleadings for help.

Barely three hours from the onset of the flooding, relatives from all over the world were already calling Manila radio stations asking help on behalf of their relatives who were helplessly marooned precariously on top of their houses.

Before darkness enveloped the pitiful victims of the raging floods on that fateful Saturday afternoon, the 26th of September, the internet was already spewing pictures and videos in youtube, facebook and other online social networking devices. As if on real time in a reality show, the global community was watching people disappear in the sea of raging waters, of cars being towed by the fierce floods like matchboxes, and of hundreds of people negotiating to safety in what looked like a river which earlier was actually the streets of Marikina. It also showed the embarrassment of the government that emerged more helpless than the victims themselves.

Judging from the number of SMS transmitted, this may have been the most technologically covered catastrophe in history—after the one of the World Trade Center. The Chair of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) had to ask people, though nonsensically, to stop sending text messages in order to declog the airwaves. That, of course, showed the folly of the government that was so far from realizing that the SMS was the only line for rescue available.

At the backdrop of so much suffering during and after the floods when the victims had to huddle in hunger and discomfort in evacuation centers if not in what was left in their mud-filled houses, the world was mesmerized by the resilience of the Filipino. This was verbalized by an American soldier helping the relief operations who saw people still smiling and in better spirits—despite the catastrophe and the neglect of their leaders.

But what stood out really were the heroism and the bayanihan spirit that is seemingly cultural to the Filipino. Or, perhaps, of a value system that has been nurtured through centuries of Christianity. Stories were told of people giving up their lives in order to save their neighbors. Stories were told, too, of the Bicolanos and many others trooping to Manila with heavy equipments, foodstuff and relief materials to give assistance to the suffering flood victims. And more stories of individuals who have parted with even the little they have just to give relief and comfort to those in distress.

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