By Anne Marie Amacher
Father Joseph Sia’s itinerary for a visit to his home county of the Philippines hadn’t included flood cleanup. But his arrival Sept. 25 in Manila occurred the day before Typhoon Ketsana swept through the country, dumping more than a month’s worth of rain in 12 hours.
Fr. Sia, parochial vicar at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine and St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, said he traveled to Manila for a family reunion that included celebration of the 90th birthday of his grandmother.
Having grown up in Manila, he had been through typhoons before. “They are seasonal there,” he said.
The streets started to flood after Typhoon Ketsana struck Sept. 26. That is not an unusual occurrence during typhoons, so he and his family weren’t alarmed.
But as the rain continued, the two dams that supply the city with water were in danger of being breached, so water was released to alleviate stress on the dams. That added to street flooding.
The wind was not bad, he said, and his family’s home never lost electricity so they were able to watch TV news reports about how the rest of the city was being impacted. After the storm, approximately 100,000 families were sheltered in temporary housing, schools and churches, Catholic News Service reported.
His family did not have to evacuate, although floodwaters entered their home. “We had two or three inches. At one point we wanted to leave, but the streets were so flooded and the currents so strong that we decided it would be more dangerous to walk,” Fr. Sia said.
The family huddled together to watch the news and to pray. He said a recent Gospel reading told the story of the faith of a child and the need to have complete trust in God. “That is what we did. Put our trust in God that everything would be OK.”
Finally the rains subsided and the waters started to recede. He and family members began the cleanup process of taking out a linoleum floor and cleaning the floors and walls with bleach to prevent mold. Other parts of the city had far worse damage. He visited with neighbors to check on them.
Cleanup efforts continued for him and his family, who also made a financial donation that was dropped off at the local newspaper office to help others affected by the typhoon.
On Sept. 28, the family celebrated the 90th birthday of Fr. Sia’s grandmother. His visit was a surprise for her. A sister of Fr. Sia’s traveled from Singapore for the special occasion. “The celebration with my grandma was very special,” he said. Also during his visit, Fr. Sia celebrated a memorial Mass for a high school classmate who had recently died. “I received an e-mail after I got back from the family that they appreciated the memorial Mass,” he said.
As Fr. Sia prepared to leave Manila, the Philippines was preparing for another typhoon, Parma. Fr. Sia flew out before the storm hit, arriving Oct. 5 in Iowa.
Several days later, a new wave of flooding, brought on by the second tropical storm to hit the Philippines within 10 days, left thousands of people homeless and at least 18 villages underwater, Catholic Relief Services officials reported.
Fr. Sia is grateful to be back in Iowa, but also feels blessed to have made the journey to the Philippines — despite the weather disasters. “I was with my family and it was good to be with them. It’s good to be back here and back to work,” he said. He also expressed gratitude to those who left messages of concern and prayer while he was in the Philippines. “I really appreciated that.”