September 28, 2009
An 18-year-old construction worker braved rampaging floods in the
Philippines 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 centre near their destroyed
Manila riverside village.
Philippines residents go to all lengths to escape neck-deep flood
waters. Photo: Reuters
"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." Mr Magallanes 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 Mr Magallanes and his father quickly decided to
evacuate the family once they realised the river 800 metres away had
burst its banks.With the help of an older brother, Mr Magallanes 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 Mr Magallanes, a strong swimmer, decided to go back for neighbours
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, Mr Magallanes was back on higher ground with
his family when he heard Ms Penalosa 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 metres 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 Penalosa, 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 neighbours were, and then he was gone," Ms
Penalosa said. Ms Penalosa and other witnesses said an exhausted Mr
Magallanes was simply washed away amid the torrent of water. Neighbors
found his body on Sunday, 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, Mr Magallanes' 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." #