Ten years ago this September, the Philippines was hit with one of the worst typhoons ever recorded. Dumping heavy rains over most of Luzon, which resulted in fast-rising floodwaters that submerged cities and towns, Typhoon Ondoy took the lives of 464 Filipinos and left countless homeless or scrambling to the roofs of their homes for safety.
Amidst the tragedy and loss, stories of miracles—unexpected rescues and lives saved—began to surface, proving the existence of the kindness of strangers and God’s hand and mercy even in the darkest of times. “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work,” said Pope Francis. “But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger!”
My Pope looks back at the stories of survival and hope in the midst of great catastrophe.
Celebrities came to the rescue.
Stranded residents in Vista Real Classica, Quezon City, weren’t expecting to see actor Gerald Anderson coming to their rescue, but that’s exactly what happened as Ondoy’s floodwaters quickly rose. Photos of Gerald braving neck-high floodwater in his area to check on his neighbors spread like wildfire.
“Gerald tried to check on us since he knows and he saw I have three small kids with me, plus the house staff,” neighbor Dr. Divine Rosales-Murano told spot.ph. “The whole ground floor of our house was affected by the water. We told him we [were] still okay, and the second time he went back to us there, he was with Cesar Montano and Bayani Agbayani, plus others. We [asked them to] check on [the street where my brother lives].”
Meanwhile, pep.ph reported that fellow actor and avid surfer Jericho Rosales used his surfboard to rescue a young boy, grandmother, and dog. And a Philippine Star article identified real-life couple Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo coming to the aide of fellow actor Gladys Reyes, who was trapped in her house with her kids, as well as generous donations in cash and kind from Arnel Pineda, Angel Locsin, and KC Concepcion.
Social media updates helped save lives.
Even if power lines were down, not everyone was kept in the dark. “Facebook, Twitter, and my cellphone proved very useful,” Robert Young Jr. from San Juan told the Philippine Star. Robert and his friends sent text updates and videos of flooding and stranded individuals—real-time news that allowed rescuers and people around the world to see the extent of Ondoy’s wrath. “It’s the first time we felt the tragic experiences of flood victims without leaving our living room,” he said.
People sacrificed their safety to rescue those in danger.
At the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy, 18-year-old construction worker Muelmar Magallanes secured his family to higher grounds—then went back to rescue the rest of his neighbors. Though he was able to save 30 of them, including young mother Menchie Penalosa and her six-month-old baby, he was too weak to save himself and perished in the floodwaters. Rescuers later retrieved his remains and those who lived thanks to his selfless act surrounded his coffin to pay their respects. “He gave his life for me and my baby,” said Menchie of Muelmar who was hailed a hero by Time Magazine. “I will never forget his sacrifice.”
Soldiers were also among Ondoy’s casualties. Army Corporal Adriano Regua, whose team was one of the first to respond to a call for help in Mabitac, Laguna, died while rescuing a fellow soldier who was overpowered by raging floodwater. “Ang kunswelo ko lang, namatay siya na nagse-serbisyo. Iyon naman talaga ang gusto niya eh (I find consolation in the fact that he died serving others. That’s what he wants anyway),” said his wife to GMA News. In Famy, Laguna, PFC Venancio Ancheta had already rescued 20 flood victims, but was unable to save himself due to a blow from a log. Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member Florencio Dequino also died in his brave efforts to bring others to safety. His family takes comfort in knowing he did not die in vain. “Ikinararangal ko po siya maging tatay (I am honored that he is my father),” said Dequino’s son.