CALUMPIT, BULACAN–The shouts of wares and prices rang from the rows of makeshift stalls that encroached on the road plying the town market.
A tindera invited passers-by to try her tilapia, while another wrapped bananas in rice paper and watched over the turon deep-frying in a pan. The prices were largely the same, but few stopped to buy.
Paces away, hundreds of people crisscrossed the kilometer-long pool of water covering this basin-like side of the MacArthur Highway.
Traveling north to Apalit, Pampanga or south to Malolos, most trudged knee-deep in the water, recurrent images alluding to the crossing of the Red Sea.
People who preferred themselves dry paid at least 20 pesos for a seat in canoes docked there like jeepneys, barkers calling the shots. Also for rent: an air bed. Motorcyclists could hire a boat or a pedicab to ferry their bikes for close to 500 pesos.
Those who wouldn’t afford the ride could also hitch one on the empty dirt trucks employed to carry many over still-impassable throughways in Central Luzon.
After 5 days, the flood had not subsided from either the road or the real kiosks of the vendors in the pamilihang-bayan. More so in the 22 barangays submerged in this town.
A few more feet, and we would have seen Thailand’s floating market.
The vendors have begun to literally pick up the wet pieces and return to business as usual.
One trader had her merchandise salvaged from her submerged stall and loaded in a truck near the pool. Her workers sorted through dripping, soggy packets of soap, tissue paper, powdered drinks, seasonings, and instant noodles for any that could still be used.
Another who owned an ukay-ukay or used-clothes store retrieved a boatload of garments to fill her van.
We reached this scene to pave the way for Kabayan Noli De Castro to anchor TV Patrol from Calumpit.
Unlike regular live reports, bringing in an anchor to broadcast from a remote location takes more than an ENG van, a cam, light, and cables.
We would also carry in computers to monitor the program lineup from Manila, a printer for the scripts, a Teleprompter, additional audio and lights, a generator-loaded truck to power them all, plus tents for the staff and of course, a platform for the anchor’s setup.
But the day’s effort, which would involve at least 20 people, was merely a one-night stand that would last till Bandila.
Another ENG van team had been the first to arrive in the poblacion 5 days earlier and had virtually camped out here since.
As Manila still dried itself from the winds and rains of Typhoon Pedring on the last day of September, our news desk began getting reports of rising floods in Bulacan.
Another storm, Quiel was close by and yet the rain water from Pedring began inundating this catch basin of the Luzon highlands only then.
Our desk had to wake our AM teams at Friday midnight and have them report for deployment earlier than their 3 a.m. call time.
The 2 ENG van crews that were sent to Bulacan raced to first reach Calumpit, where the worst reports were coming from.
ENG 1, led by producer July Cruz and engineer Nazer Babista took the long way around Pampanga to reach the poblacion, which was already blocked from Malolos by water. The team of ENG 5 was left to set up on the other end.
“The flood along the market was still passable that morning. So we decided to bring the van near the bridge where the police and Red Cross command centers were,” Nazer recalled.
“We put up the mast and went live all morning. That afternoon, the flood had already reached chest-level. We couldn’t leave anymore.”
The team was trapped the entire weekend with other evacuees–the only news van in that spot. With food and drink running out, they had to improvise places to relieve themselves and even collect rain water for washing.
Reporter Niko Baua and his team were holed up there as well.
“Our only way to reach the van was to jump into the 6-by-6 trucks crossing the flood,” Niko said.
“They told us, ‘If you want a ride, you have to get on now.’ So we only brought the camera, mic, and CF cards. We didn’t even bring extra clothes or chargers.'”
Niko and his team then laid out cots of styrofoam on the asphalt outside the van to spend the night.
July and her ENG van team let a fever-struck 7-month-old baby and her family of evacuees sleep in their crew cab.
“They were wet from the flood, had no clothes, and slept on cardboards in the concrete,” July said.
“The grandmother asked us if we had any medicine for the baby, but we had none. The least we could give them was a place to sleep.
“The baby was very hot,” she said. “We feared she would get worse.”
To get out, July left her MacBook on the van and rode on one of the trucks going back. Her replacement producer Jomar had to mount another to get in.
By Monday, the waters on the southern end of the bridge went down, allowing our teams to finally take baths and rest at local inns.
But the flood stubbornly refused to recede in many areas in Calumpit and Bulacan that ENG 1 would remain at the poblacion. Manila would next send another ENG team to meet the same and even worse conditions in Pampanga.
Fewer people waded the flood at MacArthur Highway as the night grew and we closed TV Patrol. Our shoot was not without the garbled radio and phone lines, sluggish net connection, shouts and dashes that accompanied live remote television.
The later pedestrians trudged mostly north, presumably to back to their homes, where many had moved up to their second floors.
Trucks loaded with stone and hollow blocks from northern quarries took their place going south. As each rig reached dry road, the weight and movement would send a quick gush of flood water under our van and equipment which stood at the shore.
Power was still out in Calumpit that night, with fears that bringing back electricity could harm people walking in the flood.
But the poblacion was floodlit by 2 large HMIs placed on both sides of the road to illuminate Kabayan‘s background.
And since ours were the only lit lamps there, dozens of moths swarmed our setup–some bothering Kabayan between and during his spiels, and one smudging the prompter glass before we signed out.
The lights, however, helped local watchmen who patrolled the flooded marketplace by boat after they learned that looters were exploiting the situation.
Fresh video of the inspection and of truck commuters from nearby Hagonoy were our updates for Ces Drilon come Bandila. Our setup was the remaining hint of activity in the earlier-crowded sentro.
We worried that only flood water and deserted buildings would stay on the background for Ma’am Ces.
To our pleasant surprise, a convoy of trucks and people wading in between would show up in time for her on-cams.
Signs of our kababayan’s persistence–or in the words of the British World War II dictum, keeping calm and carrying on.