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Philippines Floods - Eyewitness In the Field

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Waking up this morning in my Manila-based hotel, I was relieved to hear the rain had finally died down.

Since I arrived in the Philippines in the midst of Typhoon Gener just over a week ago, the skies have been consistently dark, the streets eerily quiet, and torrential rain has been pelting down, only stopping momentarily. I was scared, not for myself, but for the people whose homes were being destroyed.

The riverbank communities of Manila are used to the annual Monsoon season, but this year, thanks to driving winds from tropical storm Haikui, a lot more rains have hit. I'd witnessed the Marikina river steadily swelling over several days, and I knew these people were in a bad, bad situation.

Even though the area has been deemed a danger zone, these communities still set up home there, in make-shift houses with little more than plywood for shelter. For people without a steady income, this is their only option. They have nowhere else to go, can't afford rent, and have to build their homes on the only land available to them.

A river monitor, trained by one of Christian Aid's partner organisations, Centre for Disaster Preparedness, ardently checks the water levels - if it gets too high, the community needs to evacuate. Yesterday, I witnessed people grabbing their belongings and racing to evacuation centres, as their houses were crumpled by the thrashing waters. Yet, fearing they wouldn't be able to return to the land if they left, some men stayed, climbing onto the roofs, kicking away debris swept along in the torrents to protect their fragile homes. One woman stood screaming at her husband to get down and leave with her, but he wanted to stay until the bitter end.

Returning to the community this morning, everywhere is just brown. Homes have been flattened, and people are wading around in deep mud, trying to rescue whatever they can. Yet after a slight break from the rain, it's returned. Soon the river will be raging again, and the community will need to flee once again.

I also visited an evacuation centre this morning. The size of a basketball pitch, it was filled to the brim with over 600 people, families sleeping side by side, children everywhere. Local government workers are providing hot food, a godsend for these poor communities whose lives have been turned upside down.

Another result of the floods is the many pigs that are now rushing around the city streets, which is a sight to see. Many indigenous communities keep pigs, rearing the females to breed, and selling any males for meat. They also can help predict bad weather, as they scream when the water gets too high, and many families keep a pig close-by. Now, pigs huddle together everywhere, as families have brought them onto higher grounds to keep them safe.

And as I wade around in gloopy knee deep mud, I watch the people come together, just doing what needs to be done to save their community. I feel immensely proud that our partners have provided the people we've met with evacuation and rescue training, helping them to take control in this hazardous environment and saving many lives. With this knowledge and guidance, they will be able to slowly rebuild their lives.

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