Saturday October 10, 2009

Lucky escape

During the long Raya break this year, my family and I spent six nights in the Philippines: three days in Manila and another three in Boracay Island.

My stay at Manila (Makati area) was good though not exceptional. It was, however, my stay in Boracay that was “interesting”.

When we arrived in Boracay, it started to pour. In fact, it rained the entire three days we were there. I joked to the locals that we brought the rain to Boracay; little did I know that worse was to come.

We took advantage of the occasional breaks in the weather to swim in the sea and walk around the busy White Sand (we stayed in a beach resort at Diniwid beach).

Our last day in Boracay was on the day of the Ketsana (or locally known as Ondoy) storm. We left our resort just before 7am, intending to go to Kalibo airport to fly to Manila.

When we reached Boracay jetty, we were told that all boats had been grounded by the coast guard. The reason given was the strong winds and high waves. It also started to rain and increasingly more people came to the jetty. So it got crowded fast, and there was little shelter for all of us.

We had to wait nearly three hours before we could leave the island. Once in the mainland, we had to hire a private van to rush us to the airport. We still arrived late.

No matter. We learned that our Cebu Pacific flight had been delayed due to bad weather. The roof at Kalibo airport was also leaking, and we were wet from waiting in line to scan our baggage before entering the airport.

The strong winds made it worse. Our flight was delayed for three hours because Manila was experiencing bad weather too.

We finally reached Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in a heavy downpour, our luggage and contents damp from rain. We were an hour late in catching our connecting flight to Malaysia.

The runaway and roads had flooded. We could not get to Terminal 1 to catch our flight to KL. Electricity was down, computers offline, no taxis, no buses — we were completely cut off. We even had problems with our cell phones.

In the end, my family and I spent the night at Terminal 3, sleeping on the very cold floor. Fortunately, some staff distributed cardboard boxes to sleep on. I was worried that my small son would fall sick.

Restaurants and food stalls soon ran out food and were closed. The airport looked like a refugee camp. People sleept on floors (there were not enough chairs), and there were long food queues.

What was worse was the lack of information from the airport authorities.

It was at 3am that I learned that there were vans outside to bring people to Terminal 1! Again, there was no announcement.

I quickly woke my family up, packed our things and dashed to the van.

In total, my family and I stayed at the airport NAIA for over 24 hours,

We finally caught our Malaysia Airlines flight. Once checked in, we had little time before we were asked to board the plane. It started to rain again, and the flight was delayed for nearly an hour before our plane received the green light to take off.

We reached Kuala Lumpur airport three hours later. We were finally home!

I later learnt of the full scale of Ketsana and how fortunate we were compared to those who lost their lives or homes to the storm. I learnt from some fellow travellers that they were caught in a traffic jam lasting 10½ hours!

Christopher Teh Boon Sung


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