EXCLUSIVE: Nadia Montenegro Shares Her Deepest Reflections On Her Family's Harrowing Typhoon Ulysses Experience
She says it's not a story of almost losing her home, but one of reinforcing her faith
All it took was a couple of hours.
"I slept with the windows open and I could hear the wind but I didn't think the rain was madami. The kids woke me up at 5 to say baha na sa labas, pero nasa ankle pa lang. I told them the water here won't rise because our street is high," Nadia begins.
The night before Typhoon Ulysses was projected to unleash its full force on on Metro Manila, Nadia and her kids were all comfortably nestled together in their Marikina home celebrating, one of her daughter's birthdays. The kids were up late enough to almost see the sunrise, not knowing that within an hour or two, they would have no electricity, no access to potable water, wading through snake and rat infested water, and ultimately, in dire need of rescue.
By 6 a.m., the water level had alarmingly gone from ankle to calf-deep.
"Pagdating ng 8, nasa knees na and level na ng feet namin sa house. Pero sabi ko, hindi ito tataas nang sobra-sobra. Tapos, ayun na. [My daughter Ynna] said 'Mama, don't go down na. Nasa tuhod na 'yung [water].... We were all outside trying to save the cars, lift the fridges, pero 'pag lingon namin sa loob ng sala, wala na. It was above our knees na, soaked na lahat ng mga sofa. Wala na. We couldn't try to save things anymore. It was useless. We just gave up," Nadia recounts.
Talk about timing, too.
Not even a full two days before Typhoon Ulysses wrecked havoc on her house, Nadia had just finished renovating her garden, remodeling her kids' bedrooms (and outfitting both with brand-new furniture and décor), and most painfully, she had also just purchased new industrial refrigerators, freezers, and other appliances for "Tindahan ni Nadia," a community store she planned to launch on November 30.
"I was just on the second floor watching everything rise," she recalls.
Her fridges ended up on top of her cars. Her garden furniture floated down the street to an unknown destination, her daughters' bedrooms were filled with flood water and the stench it brought, and her entire ground floor transformed into her very own Atlantis.
Nadia was devastated to discover that her bodega where she stored her late husband's clothes that she so carefully packed away wasn't spared either.
It was terrifying.
Nadia and her family had never lived through legendary Marikina floods before, but it just so happened that in this storm, the creek next to their house had given in. It was certainly terrifying (and tragic) enough to bring a person to tears and to their knees, but not Nadia—or at least, she remained upright and found the strength to wipe the tears away from her cheeks.
"At that time when it was happening and I could see the water rising, there was something in me that just kept calm, and I knew it was the Holy Spirit. It was His way of telling me 'You just have to go through this.' I always remind myself of this: the toughest battles are given to the toughest soldiers," Nadia tells Metro.Style.
As her home continued to fill with water that showed every sign of continuously rising, her heart simultaneously swelled with her faith.
"Wala naman talagang ibang kakapitan 'pag ganoon eh. Wala na. It had to happen just so you know that He's there," she reflects.
Even before she could organize her thoughts and unlock her phone to ask for help, help was three steps ahead of her; friend after friend after friend offered every kind of assistance there was to offer—from food to water to housing and transportation.
Nadia's three youngest girls and her senior house help went first.
"My bishop was outside my village and took them to his house and took care of them for four days. I was going there once in a while to bring food. I was lost, but so calm. When you're there, you know that you'll get through it," Nadia remembers.
Next, Nadia headed out with her daughter Ynna on a truck with personnel that she recognized—volunteers she has often worked with before on similar rescue missions. Her other daughters refused to leave the family dogs behind, stayed in the house, and waited for the third and final round of rescue to come for them.
By 7:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after water filled her home, Nadia and all her kids were safe and sound, albeit were stationed in different places.
Nadia and Ynna found a hotel that was first, open, and second, would take them in only at 11 in the evening. This mom of eight was so exhausted that she had passed out in their hotel room, flood-soaked clothes and all.
"When I woke up and saw the ceiling, it was real. It wasn't my room. It happened," Nadia says.
"I read all my messages then doon talaga, bumigay na ako," she continues.
The feelings were so sudden and so overwhelming that they prompted the actress-turned-food entrepreneur to post a four-minute long video on Instagram where she was visibly emotional. It was the first time the public had heard from her since it was reported that her house was affected by Typhoon Ulysses. The video made headlines and circulated online non-stop for some time, reaching audiences from all over the world.
"For some reason, I just had to do the video. I just needed somebody to witness my feelings at that moment. It was the most real of me. I don't do that," Nadia explains.
Unknown to her at the time, it was her way of dealing with the initial effects of the trauma; talking can be therapeutic in and of itself and simply verbalizing the experience and naming emotions is one step to help a person move forward (a useful tip for everyone to remember, especially during these extra challenging times).
It wasn't a plea for sympathy, definitely not a call for attention and a "me-me-me" moment. In fact, if there was anything Nadia hoped to achieve with her post, it was to remind everyone that all unfortunate events are just that—events that have a beginning, and more importantly, an end to them.
"It wasn't 'Grabe 'to, lugmok 'yung buong mundo ko.' It was more of, 'It happened. I'm alive. My kids are all safe. Ang daming help. I know I'm going to recover from this.' In the end, I need to let people know that there's hope, no matter what," she assures.
What came next was even more unexpected for Nadia.
See, the thing about Nadia is that she's a natural nurturer; she gives much more often than she receives, she offers much more often than she asks.
"It was so overwhelming. People were calling me from all over. I'm not used to that. When it's a crisis, I'm the first to be like, 'Okay guys, focus. We do this, we do that, you buy that, we feed people here, you go there.' Now, inbalido ako. Wala akong magawa. My hands were tied," she states.
She even had plans of joining Miss Universe Second Runner-up Michele Gumabao last weekend in a relief effort initiative to Cagayan less than a week after going through her own ordeal. ("Baka OA na 'yung pagka-Superwoman ko, hindi ko na kaya," she jokes).
When all she had in mind was what she could do for her community and beyond, little did she know that others were out to help her.
In a matter of days, most of what she and her kids lost had been replaced; friends, godfathers and godmothers, and even strangers came to their aid—no questions asked.
Nadia found it jarring and unfamiliar. Her initial reaction, next to gratefulness, was hiya. She was embarrassed that that many people paid attention to her family, that they offered her that much, that they were compelled to act after watching her video. (Nadia has always been adamant about using her social media to inspire and spread positivity, and never to use it solely for personal gain).
God had decided to turn the tables not only for the sake of easing her physical burdens, but to teach Nadia a spiritual lesson, too.
She talks about what happened earlier this year with her childhood friend, John Regala, as the beginning of learning this lesson.
The actor was found wandering the city streets alone and in desperate need of medical attention, but with no means to afford doctor's appointments, procedures, or medicine. Nadia and a couple of other friends came to his rescue, only to learn soon afterwards that John was unwilling to help himself and unfortunately someone they felt was underserving of further help.
"That time, I knew that God was already giving me a message: You can't just go out and help everybody. You need to leave a little for yourself, and you need help too,'" Nadia reflects.
The feelings were reinforced the first morning Nadia spent at the hotel.
She met up with friend and director Joyce Bernal, and the two attempted to deconstruct what had just happened to Nadia so she could process the experience. All Nadia could talk about was figuring out ways to help Marikina, despite her own home still being in disarray.
Joyce could only look at her in disbelief.
"She said, 'Nadia, hindi mo pa ba na-ge-gets? Diba sinabi ni Lord, 'Halt?' P'wedeng tumigil ka muna, kahit two days?' Sabi ko sige, pero hindi ako sanay na tinutulungan ako," Nadia says.
"That's when I realized I was so hard on myself," she continues.
And that's also when she realized that Typhoon Ulysses, even in its fury, was never, and will never be a tragedy in her life. Not even COVID-19, not even what happened with her and John Regala could ever be tragedies to Nadia.
"When will you ever wake up and tell yourself, 'Look, 48 years of my life, I made all these decisions and where am I now? ' Ever since I believed in Him, it was the best decision I made in my life. Ever since I allowed Him to take over, look at my life,'" Nadia describes.
"I've had tragedies, but I survived them. Natangay man ni Ulysses ang lahat, but it didn't take my faith. These things that will happen, I'm fine. If they're going to make my faith stronger, then I'll go through them any time," she says matter-of-factly.
She's especially proud of the fact that her kids have all grown up with the same values.
This coming weekend, Nadia is pushing through with her plans to head to the provinces up North where she can do what she does best. Her daughter Alyana, a certified chef, has also teamed up with Dr. Hayden Kho to start a community kitchen for typhoon- and pandemic-afflicted families in Marikina.
As she waits to depart for her northbound-trip, Nadia has been hard at work with her faith community, Lifegiver Church, whose "Puso Movement" is alive and well. Just last week, they provided well over 5,000 individuals with pre-packed food when they in fact started with close to little resources to achieve such a feat.
"Through happiness, through having a cheerful life and through darkness, you need to want Him all the time. Through light or darkness, in grief or in whatever, God wants us to need Him all the time. We know that He's there," Nadia smiles.
In less than a week, Nadia and her kids have moved back in their home and can pick up from where they left off—a miracle by all means. Her eldest daughter, Alyssa, also got engaged between the storm, the flood, and moving back. Alyssa is the first of Nadia's kids to get engaged.
At any given point, when it comes to Nadia, there are always more reasons to smile than to be sad about.
It takes a healthy perspective and a great support system to achieve this, sure, but more than that, Nadia asserts that what is most powerful at the end of the day is faith.
"Sometimes I ask why He chooses me. Now I thank Him for choosing me all the time. I'll take it. Because I know have Him. I don't fear anything. I don't, I really don't," she concludes.
Photos from @officialnadiam