Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ondoy: Eye Of The Storm

YESTERDAY we here in Metro Manila experienced what is easily the worst typhoon to hit the country and the big city at least this year. The official report says it certainly dumped the heaviest amount of rainfall in our history.

It's no big surprise that Typhoon Ondoy (where the hell do they get these names?) and its non-stop rains for nine punishing hours pretty much submerged the nation's capital and nearby cities and provinces. Or that it left at least 51 people dead and thousands more homeless. See, killer storms do that here in the Philippines all too frequently and our government, both in the local and national level, never learn from the aftermath of these calamities.

But as tragic as it was and still is, there was at least one amazing bright spot about the whole experience. With a little luck, a little creativity and the latest advances in technology, it also helped re-ignite and even redefine the spirit of volunteerism. Taking advantage of popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Multiply and yes, even Friendster, people updated everyone in their network with all kinds of helpful information from traffic situations in their areas to friends trapped in their homes and literally on their roofs (one in my FB network actually asked for help for popular actress Cristine Reyes who was trapped on the roof of her place in flood-prone Marikina), numbers to call for help and how the generous and more fortunate souls among us can donate cash, clothes, food and anything else that would help.

Somebody eventually found a name for it: Citizen Journalism. And yes, it was quite a phenomenon that started late in the afternoon and extended all the way to the wee hours of the morning. Turned out to be quite reliable, too, as I would learn that not everything that's "officially" reported by the legitimate news networks are as accurate as the ones reported by, uh, well, the social networking reporters.

Yes, like many others in my Facebook network, I found myself reposting all these information even as the cynic in me wonders how many of the thousands stranded out there has a 3G-enabled cell phone that could access the internet and their social networking pages. But given the circumstances that there's not much else most of us can really do at home but to well, stay at home, I might as well find a way to be of little help to anyone out there who can access their FB pages and at least read my posts.

To be honest, I have no idea if any of my reposts was able to help a single soul. But yes, if there was at least two people who were able to access their Facebook accounts in their mobile phones and pass them on to as many people as possible via SMS or if there were few folks in their cars who were somehow "fortunate" enough to be stranded in a wi-fi zone or that somehow, the major news networks were able to pick up these posts and pass them on to their viewers or listeners, then those little efforts would not have been for naught.

And it's not yet over. The storm may have calmed down but the spirit of volunteerism and, okay, citizen journalism continues. Of course, some reposts are also either a little or a lot less correct than others (in local journalism parlance, we call it kuryente or being electrocuted by false information) but in times like these, I guess you really can't blame anybody for being too careful or a little too anxious to do their share to help.

But then again, these reposts are also a good reason for: one) the responsible officials to confirm or deny or immediately act on; two) for those out there in the field to further verify; and three) for those of us at home to be a little more circumspect with the information we share.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I may need to repost something that might be helpful to someone again.

How bad was Typhoon Ondoy? Watch this video taken at noontime yesterday:

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