Monday, June 19, 2006

Caught in a flash flood

There are 2 routes, both unpaved, from the barrio proper to our farm in Pangasinan. One is via the old barangay road (about 1.7 kms), the other via the new and wide private road in the "Zion mountain" adjacent to ours (about 2.5 kms). In the former, it's not hilly, mild ascent, but the road is narrow, you will have to pass a creek (that becomes a river during flash floods), and there's one protruding section, the top of the big drainage culvert, where smaller vehicles will have difficulty crossing. In the new private road, no creek to cross, no protrusion to negotiate, the road is wide, but it's longer, winding and hilly.

When I drive my pick-up to the farm, I always take the new and private road since there is less potential damage to my car's belly and chassis; also, the view here is more beautiful than the old barangay road. I can also show my guests and visitors the station of the cross in the "Zion mountain".

Last Saturday, my wife Ella and her 2 lady officemates joined me when I went to the farm. I drove my old (9 years old) but reliable Mitsubishi L-200 pick-up. It was hot the whole day, so when some cloud formed up over our head, I thought that it won't fall as a strong rain, more of drizzles. People say that what kills the mouse is when it thought that the cat nearby is blind and has lost is sense of smell, only to realize later that he was wrong. And so wrong was I in that assumption.

By the time we packed our things to leave the farm around 5:30pm, strong rains have fallen, and my non-4WD pick up can no longer climb a hill to the private road due to the muddy soil. No other option but take the old barangay road. We managed to go out about 400 meters away, until we reached the protruding big culvert; by that time, the rains started to weaken. I stopped the car, got out, and along with our farm caretaker, Mang Endring, we put stones around the protrusion so my pick-up's belly won't touch the huge hump. Just when I thought we only have a few minutes more work to do, the water in the canal suddenly rose, becoming stronger, bringing down with it uprooted plants and light driftwoods. It's a flash flood, and the water is gushing straight to my parked pick-up! The waters have come from the uplands, coming down fast and strong.

Mang Endring alerted me immediately that it's a flash flood and I should back out quick! While backing out, the flood water has already reached my car's bumper, pushing it back further. I made a wrong maneuver and my right rear wheel nearly fell in a hole where the flood water exits! Mang Endring told me to move forward a bit and maneuver back to the left. I managed to drive the car out of the hole, but by this time, some flood waters have reached the radiator and car engine, indicators for engine oil and heater were lighting up and out!

Finally, I was able to steer the car backwards again and out of the flood's way, but this time, the left rear wheel fell on a rice field. I tried moving forward, but the left rear wheel was already stuck in the mud, the right rear wheel was turning and spewing out smoke, and the car engine too was spewing out some hot smoke! I stopped the engine, got out of the car, and Mang Endring and I discussed what to do next.

We decided that Mang Endring will go out to some folks who live nearby (about 400 meters away) to ask for help. This time, the rains have stopped, the downpour was no more than 25 minutes I think. I talked to Ella and her officemates while waiting for the flash flood to subside, and the men to come. In a few minutes, Mang Endring plus 3 men and 2 young boys came. The father of the 2 young boys wanted to help but he was not feeling well, so he sent his 2 kids to help.

First task was to get the car out of the rice field. The cooled engine + 4 men and 2 boys pushing the pick-up made the task easy and quick. So my car is now out of the rice field, alright! Two more tasks: how to cross the huge drainage culvert, and how to move past a current of onrushing flood water which was still strong, as the narrow road has become a canal. The stones that Mang Endring and I put around the culvert earlier have been totally pushed down by the flash flood, so we have to gather again a new round of small rocks, stones and pebbles. The 2 young boys were of great help here, gathering pebbles and sand on a sack, back and forth. By this time, it was already past 7pm, it was dark, and my car headlight guiding the men in the job.

After several attempts, my car was able to cross the big drainage culvert; hence, only 1 task left: brave the current of on-rushing water, then a slight uphill on an uneven and muddy road, and the car should be able to work its way out of the muds and water. The weaker water current enabled the car to move past the waters, but it got stuck again in the mud on the slight ascent. Here comes the men and the boys again, and the car finally got out.

A few muddy areas down and the car moved like a drunk man walking zigzag. We reached the place of the men, they got off. Since I know them all, they also know me, they did not really ask for anything. I have a bottle of Matador brandy, some big bangus (milkfish), and little cash. They gladly accepted the liquor and the bangus, but declined on the cash, so I insisted on it. They laughingly accepted all our gifts, and I told them jokingly, "I'll do it again ha? Get stuck in the mud, cross the culvert hump, challenge the flash flood current, and you all come again?" To which they gladly replied, "Yes, but next time, you do it around midnight and we'll still come!"

Further down, the waters in the creek was still high. I estimated that the water should be around knee-deep only. On a 2nd gear, my pick-up braved the water, but to my surprise, the headlight suddenly went out (it got submerged!), and went back again after the lights and car got out of the water.

Well, we're now safe, back to the barrio. After having been stuck in mud and caught in a flash flood for 2 hours, my wife and her 2 officemates were very hungry when we reached the barrio, at Mang Endring's house, around quarter to 8pm. A hearty meal of chicken adobo with santol and coconut meat (buko) as dessert for dinner helped to erase the worries a few hours ago.

During and after the experience, I have always thought that had there been plenty of organic matter and terraces that absorb plenty of rainfalls, flash floods wouldn't be as strong as this one for a short but heavy downpour.