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09:35 PM June 19th, 2013

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By: Conrado de Quiros, June 19th, 2013 09:35 PM

Getting from Katipunan to Greenhills took two-and-a-half hours. This was early evening of Monday. It had been raining intermittently in the afternoon—not furious downpours but relatively light ones. When I left Katipunan, it was only drizzling. It was a breeze getting through the street, but when I got to the bridge just past Ateneo everything stood still.

The drizzle turned into a fine rain, and as the wipers swished through the streaks of water and mist on the windshield, one caught flashes of red lights blinking like broken glass from the vehicles stewing there. My favorite nightmare—caught in a monstrous jam—and I hadn’t expected it. The vehicles pushed forward laboriously, heaving in unison every few minutes, gaining a foot or two at a time. I figured the tunnel leading to C5 must be flooded, and the vehicles going there must have usurped all the lanes blocking everyone behind them.

After about an hour, I managed to turn right into Tuason, only to find it a huge parking lot as well. I took a left hoping Camp Aguinaldo would be better, but never got there. Instead, I fell into a bigger nightmare, twisting and turning to avoid the flooded side streets, which everybody was doing, causing ferocious snarls. It took another hour to get out of there. I finally made it back to the part of Tuason near Cubao and just waited the traffic out till I got to Edsa. After about half an hour I was in Greenhills.

We were supposed to meet at 7:30 p.m., but I got to our meeting place at 9 p.m. As it turned out, I was the first to arrive. The one coming from Manila arrived an hour later, Nick Joaquin’s favorite city having turned into a Venice without its charm. The one coming from Makati never made it. Five hours later, he was still only on Shaw.

Welcome, I said to myself, to the end of summer.

I would learn later, though, that roughly the same thing had happened a week earlier. The rains have come pretty much on cue along with the students at the opening of school. But a couple of things are unusual.

One is that this has been a long and blazing summer. The dry season, as far as I can tell, began last December in the dead heat of Christmas. Last Christmas was dry and hot as hell, a wild departure from the days when we could get a whiff of Baguio in the early morning. Except for brief and sudden rains, which have come few and far between, the past six months have been unrelentingly dry and hot. The rains themselves do not cool the world down; they certainly haven’t these past few weeks. It remains warm to hot afterward.

Two is that it doesn’t take a torrential downpour anymore to turn the streets of Metro Manila into a watery grave. I could be wrong, but the rains last Monday didn’t look all that strong and long. Yet they made many streets impassable. Last week, apparently, if some of my friends are to be believed, the water in some parts of Sampaloc was waist-high—and they don’t mean, my friends say, the waist of Hobbits. You have to wonder at the scenario over the next few months as we go deeper into what used to be called the “rainy season,” a category that has been rendered largely meaningless by a messed-up climate. When walls of water come tumbling down a la “Ondoy.”

Pity the students, workers, office hands, and sidewalk vendors who have to ply the streets every day. Pity the commuters who have to huddle in the rain at the end of a long day to scramble for a ride. Pity the slum dwellers, the estero dwellers, the vagrants and homeless that sleep under bridges. P-Noy does well to pity them, and think about assigning a flood tsar to meet the bane.

But frightening as the impending scenario is, there’s something that scares the bejesus out of me more. That is the fact that we are not alone in this plight.

One may imagine that that is a comfort, misery loves company, we can’t be doing so badly if others are doing worse. But it is one very cold comfort if it’s happening on a planetary plane. It’s one scary nightmare. The floods are everywhere. Central Europe is awash in them, the swollen rivers having overrun their banks and torn through Prague and Germany, forcing 10,000 German families to flee their homes. It’s the worst flooding in 10 years, the interval now getting shorter.

Storms and floods have been sweeping across the United States, quite apart from killer twisters. The experience of Hurricane “Sandy” was still fresh in American minds when wind and rain howled over the Midwest. Three weeks ago, a storm caused extensive flooding in Texas. A week later, another storm did the same to Oklahoma, including the town of Moore earlier hit by a tornado 2.6 miles wide and packing winds of 300 miles per hour.

The reason for the storms and floods? Rising oceans caused by climate change. They’re getting warmer, too, whipping up hurricanes and cyclones.

This has made coastal areas particularly vulnerable to being swallowed by water. A climate-change conference in Bonn recently identified the following areas as being in harm’s way: Bangkok, Bangladesh, Miami, New York, London, the Netherlands, Venice, Maldives and Cuba. Thankfully, Manila is not there. But what nature has left out, our drainage system, or the lack of it, may not.

Curiously, much of the response to it has consisted of finding ways to stop the oceans’ rising waters from engulfing shores, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s multibillion-dollar plan to flood-proof his city by building removable flood walls in lower Manhattan and restoring marshes in Queens. Thus far, the focus has not been on stopping the oceans’ waters from rising in the first place by stopping global warming.

It’s enough to make you believe in the Great Flood. And I don’t know which is worse, that it owes to the wrath of God or the folly of man.

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