#Tempmad. Everyone in Madeira knows what it meant. Still means.
The first days after the terrible events on Madeira, I had a very useful tool at my disposal: Twitter. A lot of information that we otherwise would never have been able to get went around the globe in milliseconds. For me, the linchpin was Linda Machado, who collected a lot of information and passed it on to interested parties. I was very impressed by what was being done by so many people individually, voluntarily, day and night. When she had written down her memories of those first days, I asked her if I could post a translation on this blog. Let’s go back in time, to February 20th, 2010, to convey the feelings of someone who was in the middle of it. This post bears the title of Linda’s story. We’re not posting any more images of the disaster. We’ve seen enough already. This is about people who were there and now wake up and realize what they’ve been through.
by Linda Machado
Now that the worst is over, I feel the need to reflect on some of my feelings, which I haven’t been able to show on Twitter so far. Feelings that are mixed now, that house many kinds of feelings today, but that were limited to one at the beginning: fear.
On Saturday the 20th of February, I was still dozing a bit in bed, I started to notice that it was raining hard. Twice I heard the rain rattling against the shutters with a sound like hail, but because it was Saturday and I didn’t have to work I decided to stay where I was. But after a while, I realized that it was raining too hard for too long. I decided to get up, after all, it was morning and was light now. Having an iPhone now, and wireless internet, I’ve become half addicted to Twitter and so I always turn on TweetDeck on the iPhone when I get up to see what the people I’m following are talking about.
I don’t remember whose stories I read that morning, or what I read exactly. I just know I understood right away that something very serious was happening in Funchal, in the rivers. I wanted to turn on the TV but I noticed that there was no electricity in the house. I turned on my laptop, which fortunately had a full battery, and from the first tweets, I understood the seriousness of the situation.
I soon asked to use the hashtag #temporal but saw immediately that that had already been used for other news that had nothing to do with today. I created a new one and asked to use it as a replacement. It quickly became the title of the topic: #tempmad.
The adhesion came immediately. Soon the first frightening messages came. I called my mother, but TMN had no network. But the landline still worked. She was doing well, and she had no idea of the danger, but in the end, nothing serious had happened in her neighbourhood. Because the balance of my Vodafone card was almost gone, I called my only sister in Lisbon and asked her to top up my balance with multibanco*, after that was done I called all my other five siblings. We all live in different neighbourhoods in and around Funchal and one of them lives in Machico. The first sister I called (in S. Gonçalo) told me that the roads were full of fallen rocks: my brother o law had gone out to help a friend who already had water in the house and almost got stuck between the falling rocks. They couldn’t get to Funchal because the road was cut off and it was raining very hard. Their business was damaged but they couldn’t get there either.
One by one I managed to talk to all but two of my brothers and sisters. One who lives near the Luso-Brasileira road, a sloping street that runs straight down from Babosas, one of the neighbourhoods where several people died, and a lot of cars had been dragged along by the water; the other in Machico. I didn’t manage to make contact with the first one until around 6 pm, I didn’t manage to make contact with the other one that day, but I did get a message that he was doing well. Knowing that my closest family was all right, I now concentrated on Twitter again.
When the electricity came back, that must have been around noon or 1 PM, I turned on the radio and the TV. The TV didn’t broadcast anything about the situation! The radio was broadcasting everything. My radio didn’t leave my side from that moment on. Via the radio (Antena 1 Madeira) I got all the information. Because I noticed that the communication was very limited and difficult I started to make transcriptions of what I heard on the radio. Immediately emigrants started asking questions because they couldn’t reach anyone or receive RTP-Madeira or national RTP.
And so, the phenomenon #tempmad was born!
You might not believe me when I tell you that for the next 48 hours I was on Twitter almost continuously and that I can’t remember what I was twittering. Because of the feedback, I got, but especially the requests for information and help that started coming in, I started to feel responsible to keep going, reporting everything I heard on the radio, to pass things on, to help and to channel the help.
Saturday was chaos. On Sunday a lot of people were already working in the centre of Funchal. On Monday, the coordinating bodies (Protecção Civil and Regional Government) were already fully organized and had all the machinery on-site, with information, with helplines, in short, with the whole logistics. But in spite of everything, many people from outside had no means to get news, and communication remained impossible. Help was still needed. On Saturdays and Sundays I called from my mobile numbers but I hardly ever got a connection. On Monday, my employer made the phones of the office available, which is situated outside the affected areas. This allowed me to continue searching for missing relatives of people who were looking for them….
It wasn’t until Monday, at the end of the day when I came home from the office and sat down on the couch to watch the news, that I felt the tension fall from me in the form of physical fatigue like I had never felt before. I then noticed that that tension had been immense and that I needed to rest. I have to say that resting did, and still does, make me feel guilty because I know that so many people are working so hard right now, that others are traumatised because they have lost their families or their homes, and still others fear to lose their homes due to landslides or collapses….
In this state, feelings are many and varied. Feelings of joy because someone has been found alive and well. Of emotion because of all the kind words I got online. But above all, what I keep remembering from the beginning is fear. Fear of losing family or friends, fear of the simple coincidence that determines whether someone dies or can escape a tragedy that takes place in a place where I, where we, pass every day, carefree and unaware of the fact that life depends on circumstances in time and space. Being here, or just being there. In a second everything can change.
I grieve for the pain of those who have lost family or friends, and of those who have lost everything, most people with little resources.
I never forget the drive with which the members of our government took action and tried to bring solutions to the chaotic situation the population was facing.
I love my city and my island, where my roots are. I know that very soon they both will be as beautiful as they used to be. But with another beauty: the beauty of the togetherness that we never thought would be so great among my people – that may be rough sometimes, but always, always industrious and friendly.
I’m not a journalist and I don’t want to be one. I only used my knowledge of twitter and my experience in transcribing and writing. I just acted out of impulse, as a citizen, as a Madeiran, as a Funchalense in heart and soul…
My gratitude to everyone who helped.
Funchal, February 27, 2010
* Multibanco is a Portuguese system of internet banking, using public cash machines instead of a private computer and internet connection, which many in Madeira still do not have. It is widely spread in Portugal and on Madeira.