Family watching TV suddenly swallowed by water and mud

Family watching TV suddenly swallowed by water and mud
PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Merbai Salvador, 30, and her family continued watching TV after hearing what Merbai said was a loud, "crackling" sound outside her mother's house in the village of Anongan in Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte province, on the night of Dec. 22.

The sound, said Merbai, was like that of heavy things rolling down the mountain. "Then the strong smell of mud," she said.

As they continued to watch TV, Merbai and her family were suddenly swallowed by the rush of water and mud.

TASTING MUD

"It was too late, water is up on us and we were swept away by a strong current," said Merbai, recalling the night they were preparing for the onslaught of severe Tropical Storm "Vinta". The mud was all over that Merbai said she could taste it. "It's getting into my nose and mouth," she said.

Merbai said she groped in the dark for anything she could hold on to. "I can't see anything. I heard cries," she said. She said she heard "big things" that she presumed to be slabs of wood "hitting a house." "I was hit by lumber several times and I tried to grab anything solid to keep me afloat."

She clung to a coconut tree until it was uprooted and she fell along with it, suffering more injuries.

TWO-STORY MUD

After nearly two hours of struggling in the thick mud as high as two stories, Merbai said she found herself swept into a rocky area in another village. There, she met several other survivors, including an 8-year-old boy.

Merbai said she and her family knew Vinta was coming. On Dec. 22, she and her two children were set to leave the city to celebrate Christmas someplace else. But it rained heavily and they decided to wait it out in the house of her mother, Imelda Samson.

"We were preparing for it (Vinta)," Merbai said. But she said she had expected the storm to make landfall on Dec. 23 as predicted by weather reports. She and her family, however, were hit by a different tragedy.

"Those were not waves that hit us," she said. "It was thick, brown mud as high as two-story buildings coming down from the mountain."

Another survivor, Tuting Ubay Samson, 57, and also a resident of Anongan village, recounted firing his gun into the air to alert neighbours.

LIFE-CHANGING TRAGEDY

"I fired four shots then went inside to evacuate my family," Tuting said. His family, said Tuting, fled the house ahead of him as he tried to tie down windows to secure these. "I set my right foot on the ground, the mud was knee-deep," he said.

"When I set my left foot down to run, the mud was already chest-deep, I was swept away from my house," Tuting said.

"The current brought me to a shoreline," he said. "Soon as we got up to run, another wave of mud came flowing down," he added.

Merbai and Tuting said they had never been through such a disaster before.

"There was rain, strong rains in the past and water swelled at Anongan River but it never reached this far, where people were killed," Tuting said.

Norbideiri Edding, mayor of Sibuco town, said thick mud and water came from the mountain of Anongan, a fishing village of some 500 households and 600 families, which had been denuded by massive logging and planting of oil palm trees.

The village lies at the foot of Anongan Mountain, where logging went unabated during President Aquino's time.

In September 2016, Mayor Edding said he had planned to seek the help of environmentalist Gina Lopez on the denudation caused by the expansion of oil palm plantations, which had already displaced up to 300 families, mostly from the Sama Bangingi tribe, in the village of Litawan next to Anongan.

President Duterte, he said, should send investigators over.

TUBOD IN GRIEF

In Tubod, Lanao del Norte, 8-year-old Diosdado Alalong said he was picking up firewood around 10 a.m. of Dec. 22 when it rained hard and floods came.

Diosdado rushed home and saw his father and younger brother inside struggling in the flood. The floor collapsed and the two disappeared in the water. Diosdado survived by clinging to a tree.

He found himself lying in a pool of mud after the flood and was eventually plucked out by another brother, who came with soldiers.

He found out later that his father and younger brother did not survive.

Tubod, where 32 people had been confirmed dead, continued to grapple with grief as 12 more victims of the flood were buried on Tuesday.

Vicmar Palomar, Tubod municipal disaster and risk reduction management officer, said 13 more people were missing.Across Lanao del Norte, 117 people had been confirmed dead but the number could still increase as the search for 98 missing persons continued.

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