Philippine Typhoon Survivor: Trapped Like ‘Sardines in a Can’

Marielle Lucenio and Luis Liwanag
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201113-PH-typhoon-620.jpg Filipinos in Rizal, a municipality east of Manila, clear mud and debris after flood waters from Typhoon Vamco receded, Nov. 13, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

As rescuers scrambled Friday to reach more people trapped by slowly receding floods spawned by Typhoon Vamco in Metro Manila, one survivor recounted her dramatic escape when she saved herself and her five grandchildren as water quickly filled their home.

Dozens of Filipinos were reported killed and dozens more missing in the wake of Vamco (Ulysses), the third typhoon to strike the country in as many weeks, authorities said Friday.

Geraldine Rabino, a 53-year-old resident of Marikana city – one of the areas in the Philippine capital region inundated as a result of heavy rainfall from the typhoon – said her family had prepared for the storm, and she had thought they would be spared its wrath.

By early Wednesday night, Rabino said her family had moved their appliances and belongings to the second floor of their house. But as torrential rains lashed the Philippines, the floodwaters rose and seeped through their first floor.

“We thought it’s going to reach only up to our hips, or our necks at most,” Rabino told BenarNews.

With only about four inches before the water reached their top floor, Rabino used a wooden ladder as a bridge for her grandchildren to go to their neighbors’ house.

“Even me, at my weight and age, I was forced to crawl on the ladder as well,” the woman said.

By Thursday morning, steadily rising water had almost reached the second floor of the neighbor’s house, forcing them to make a second escape to another structure where they joined five other families huddled together, Rabino said.

“We were more than 30 people in less than a 50 square-meter space – like sardines in a can,” she said, recalling their ordeal.

Rabino said they shared a 500-milliliter (16.9-ounce) bottle of mineral water and some snacks with the others who were trapped until the waters began to recede on Friday morning.

“We didn’t ask for help anymore. We heard so many families asking for rescuers over the radio, so it would have been insensitive for us to demand help when we were safe,” she said.

Going back to their muck-covered house, Rabino said she and her family considered themselves lucky.

“What’s important is we’re alive. What else can we do but stand up, clean and live again,” she said.

A Philippine soldier rescues a baby in the town of Libmanan, Camarines Sur province, Nov. 12, 2020. [Handout Armed Forces of the Philippines]
A Philippine soldier rescues a baby in the town of Libmanan, Camarines Sur province, Nov. 12, 2020. [Handout Armed Forces of the Philippines]

‘We remain vigilant’

On Friday, as floodwaters began to recede, officials reported more deaths and at least 22 people missing.

The military, the lead agency for the search-and-rescue effort, said troops and volunteers had already rescued thousands trapped by the floods that inundated low-lying eastern areas of Metro Manila.

“We remain vigilant and we continuously monitor the possible rise of water and landslides in (the) aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses,” military chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay told a meeting of the emergency services Friday morning, using the Filipino name for Vamco.

Gapay said about 40 people were injured and at least 22 others were missing. Many areas in the northern Philippines were unreachable, so rescuers were expecting to confirm more deaths in the coming days, he noted.

“So, all-in-all our search, rescue and retrieval cluster has rescued 138,272 of our compatriots, and we have 40 people who were injured or wounded that were also rescued,” he said.

The national police reported that 42 had been killed, according to wire service reports.

At least 800 search-and-rescue teams, backed by 11 aircraft and 318 rubber boats operated by the coast guard, were working non-stop to aid those still trapped, Gapay said.

Operations were focused on the Cainta, a suburb next to Marikina. A low-lying valley in eastern Metro Manila, Marikina is a natural catch basin for water from a nearby mountain range. The heavy rain caused a major river in the city to burst its banks.

“We had to deploy an amphibious assault vehicle of the Philippine Marines because of the high waters and strong current,” Gapay said. “Our rubber boats and watercraft found it difficult, and we saved many by using an amphibious assault vehicle.”

Rescuers said one of those killed was a 2-year-old whose body was found in a village in Marikina after being separated from his mother as floods swept in.

In a video, another Marakina resident was seen being swept away by a local river swollen from flooding, according to Mayor Marcelino Teodoro. Search-and-rescue teams scoured the river’s banks for the man, whose fate remained unknown as of Friday.

Teodoro said he had placed the city under a “state of calamity” as he called on the national government to release emergency funds to help the city recover from the disaster.

Typhoon Vamco was the 21st cyclone to hit the Philippines this year. It came days after Goni, the world’s most powerful typhoon to date in 2020, pummeled the region on Nov. 1 and left 25 people dead.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a preliminary emergency appeal for 3.5 million Swiss Francs (U.S. $3.8 million) for typhoon-affected areas in the country.

“It’s heartbreaking to see a population, already in the grip of the COVID pandemic, facing another severe storm, the sixth to hit the Philippines in the past five weeks,” said Robert Kaufman, the IFRC Philippine director.

“We cannot leave them to face these challenges alone,” he said.

Basilio Sepe, Jojo Rinoza and Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Manila, Dagupan City and Cotabato City, Philippines.


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