30 September 2009

Storm Ondoy Brought Out a Hero

Rescued Woman
There is no doubt that Tropical Storm Ondoy is the only calamity that has received the most coverage in the country's history. Photos of major thoroughfares, cars, and houses being overrun by floods illustrate the magnitude of Ondoy's rage. There were even people who posted videos, many of them taken by those who were in the thick of the action, and some people reporting from the MRT to show everyone the situation along EDSA.

However, there was one report about extreme heroism that captured the country's heart. An 18-year-old construction worker braved the rampaging floods to save more than 30 people, but ended up sacrificing his life in a last trip to rescue a baby girl and her mother who were being swept away on a styrofoam box.

Family members and people who Muelmar Magallanes saved have hailed the young man a hero, as his body lay in a coffin at a makeshift evacuation center near their destroyed Manila riverside village.

"I am going to be forever grateful to Muelmar," said Menchie Penalosa, the mother of the six-month-old girl whom he carried to safety before being swept away himself. "He gave his life for my baby. I will never forget his sacrifice."

Muelmar was at home on Saturday with his family when tropical storm Ketsana unleashed the heaviest rains in more than 40 years on the Philippine capital and surrounding areas.

At first the family, long used to heavy rains, paid little attention to the storm.

But Muelmar and his father quickly decided to evacuate the family once they realized the river 800 meters away had burst its banks.

With the help of an older brother, Muelmar tied a string around his waist and attached it one-by-one to his three younger siblings, whom he took to higher ground. Then he came back for his parents.

But Muelmar, a strong swimmer, decided to go back for neighbors trapped on rooftops.

He ended up making many trips, and eventually saved more than 30 people from drowning, witnesses and survivors said.

Tired and shivering, Muelmar was back on higher ground with his family when he heard Muelmar screaming as she and her baby were being swept away on the polystyrene box they were using in an attempt to cross the swift currents.

He dived back in after the mother and daughter, who were already a few meters away and bobbing precariously among the debris floating on the brown water.

"I didn't know that the current was so strong. In an instant, I was under water. We were going to die," said Ms. Peñalosa, her eyes welling with tears and voice choking with emotion.

"Then this man came from nowhere and grabbed us. He took us to where the other neighbors were, and then he was gone," Ms. Peñalosa said.

Ms. Peñalosa and other witnesses said an exhausted Muelmar was simply washed away amid the torrent of water.

Neighbors found his body on Sunday (27 September 2009), along with 28 others who perished amid Manila's epic flooding. The official death toll stands at 100 with 32 missing.

Standing next to his coffin, Muelmar's parents paid tribute to their son.

"He always had a good heart," said his father, Samuel.

"We had already been saved. But he decided to go back one last time for the girl."

His mother, Maria Luz, wept as she described her son as incredibly brave.

"He saved so many people, but ended up not being able to save himself."