x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

I was helpless as family fled Philippines flood, Dubai manager says

First the rains, then the floods, then the landslides, then the rescue; all trickled hour by hour on to a worried Erland Josef's Facebook feed.

A handout picture of Erland Josef’s family members (from left), brother-in-law Michael Ramos, sister Rhea Josef-Ramos, niece Josh Aimee Ramos, mother Erlinda Josef and younger sister Lyza Ross Josef.
A handout picture of Erland Josef’s family members (from left), brother-in-law Michael Ramos, sister Rhea Josef-Ramos, niece Josh Aimee Ramos, mother Erlinda Josef and younger sister Lyza Ross Josef.

DUBAI // As he sat last Thursday in an office of Dubai, watching his friends and family post about the rising water levels in Manila, Erland Josef knew there was nothing he could do.

First the rains, then the floods, then the landslides, then the rescue; all trickled hour by hour on to his Facebook feed.

At least 23 people have died since Sunday, including nine in a landslide in a hillside slum in Quezon City and several others who drowned in outlying provinces.

Rescuers on rubber boats floated down flooded streets to reach thousands of residents marooned in submerged houses along the hardest-hit Marikina River.

"I was so worried and restless," said the 28-year-old assistant marketing manager. "All I could offer were comforting words and financial support."

He called his sister Rhea Josef-Ramos, 32, who said their family home, despite being on higher ground in Calumpang, Marikina City, was flooded.

He was particulary worried for the safety of their parents and sister Lyza who has a one-month old baby.

"They had to quickly move to Rhea's two-storey house in another street," Mr Josef said.

"The waters were knee-deep and they had no electricity for days."

Even though the weather was gradually improving yesterday morning, the number of displaced was still rising, to nearly 300,000 in some 500 evacuation centers.

A friend and his family were forced to evacuate after floodwaters neared their home, and are staying inside a church until the waters recede.

The Marikina river remained "critical" yesterday afternoon, down from its morning peak of 20.4m, but still 18.4m above normal.

"I called my sister again early this morning," Mr Josef said. "I just wanted to make sure everyone's fine."

For many in Manila, the flooding provoked fears of a repeat of 2009's typhoon Ketsana, locally known as Ondoy. Then, Marikina City was one of the hardest hit areas.

"I was working in Doha when Ondoy hit us," he said. "I can't help but feel very worried for my family."

Mrs Josef-Ramos said she did not want to cause any more anxiety for her brother. "When Erland called me, his voice was breaking," she said from her home yesterday. "He couldn't sleep for so many days so I was careful with what say to him."

This time, the family was better prepared for calamity. "Ondoy was a total disaster. We lost many of our belongings but what's important is that we're all safe.

"Now, it's best for us to pray for good weather and for the safety of everyone affected by the heavy floods. "

rruiz@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Associated Press