SENDONG: STORIES OF SURVIVAL
By: Nastasha Colibao, Red Cross Volunteer
It started as a seemingly normal day. Preparations are
on-going for the coming festive activities; people here and
there getting ready for Christmas. It started as a seemingly
normal day, then a seemingly normal night; a seemingly
normal drizzle, then a seemingly normal rainfall. What
started out as an ordinary day turned out to be anything but
On The Eve of Calamity
Al Madale, a Red Cross Youth Volunteer said during the
interview, "We have been getting ready for a Children's
Concert. It was raining then. It rained often these days, so
we thought nothing of it and continued with the rehearsals.
"I stayed at the office, along with some less than
fifteen other volunteers. The others went home a few hours
back and brought the children home when the weather
"Although a Signal Number 2 was reported in Lanao del
Norte, they said the water level was fine; so I waited for a
phone call at home," Mohammad Manalao, another Red Cross
Volunteer, admitted, "but around 11 that night, one of the
staff called and said we needed to set-up the rubber boats
in the office.
"I couldn't come immediately; it took me a long time to
get to the office. The water was rising - there were no
means of transportation then."
Day 1, December 17th
Before the clock has struck midnight, Red Cross
Volunteers and Coast Guards have already been setting up at
Red Cross Chapters, getting Rubber Boats and Rescue Kits as
fast as they could. Updates have been given, and it was not
getting better. People have been staying on their rooftops,
holding on for their lives. The water level continues to
rise and time is of the essence.
When the volunteers could finally leave, water has risen
to high levels on the National Highway. The river has
overflowed at alarming rates. Many different routes had to
be tried – it was a trial and error course – because of the
dangers of live wires and strong currents the flood has
brought. The water level has reached 6 feet in some areas;
and in some, a more fatal 10 feet above the ground.
"The current became even stronger, and we hit something
under water – a car, I think, but I'm not sure. It damaged
the rubber boat, and the boat tipped over. It was a good
thing that everybody had life vests on, and we were still
safe," said Mohammad Manalao.
Yvonne Antolihao, a survivor, narrated to PRC Chairman
Richard Gordon after how she struggled that time to keep her
four children alive - she made them hang on to a Mango Tree.
At that time, another child was holding onto her leg for
dear life, although she could barely cling to the tree.
A number of volunteers still managed to continue the
rescue without their rubber boats, and struggled to bring
the people to a place called Tubad Bridge, where the water
level was much lower – where it was safer.
For some, though, the same could not be said. When the
water level somehow dropped, Yvonne Antolihao discovered
that the child holding on to her leg has been long gone,
having drowned helplessly in that very spot.
"Ma'am Jenny called, she was crying. She couldn't believe
how many deaths there have been. They were just floating
around, the flood carrying their bodies," narrated Al Madale.
"At around 5am, we went back to the office, had about ten
minutes of rest, and started immediately to pack up and set
up the Medical Team for another mission. More than 250
people have been helped right away, thank God," said
Many survivors refused to let the Red Cross volunteers
transfer their deceased to funeral homes, saying that they
could handle it themselves; saying that their loved ones
should end up in their beloved residences.
Day 2, December 18th
Another day comes to shed more light of hope to our
brothers and sisters in Mindanao. More people have been
rescued and additional medical aid has been given. Although
many have not been physically hurt, numerous people have
been in shock. They could answer simple questions, but
refuse to engage in further conversations. A helpless look
dwells upon their faces, having to look at the face of death
More cadavers have been recovered; sadly, three out of
the four funerals homes refuse to accommodate more dead
bodies. Some even accept only those who have purchased Plans
or Insurance from them.
Angelina Labor from Iligan City grieves over her mother's
death. But more heartache comes along as she could not
afford to pay for her mother's final rites. Comfort comes in
a form of help where PRC Chairman Richard Gordon initiated
to provide coffins by asking for donations. Also, body bags
have been contributed to give the deceased more dignity,
instead of having to be laid down, out in the open for
everyone to see.
Day 3, December 19th
Red Cross volunteers, still unwavering, continue to
repack and give out relief goods, hot meals and medical help
to those in need; in addition, they have mustered all their
efforts to bring over 10, 000 Liter of water to the
survivors – hoping to help the drenched but ironically
It is not unusual for someone to feel at loss after the
death of his loved ones. Just like Blas Avenido from
Barangay Hinaplanon, Iligan City. He has lost nine of his
relatives and is still hoping that some of them will turn
up. He confesses to the PRC Chairman and Governor James Dy
that he is the only known survivor at that particular time,
but the pain of not knowing is much worse than dealing with
deaths. He has lost his will to live. It was a good thing
that Philippine Red Cross also offers Psycho-Social Support
for those who have been experiencing the same turmoil as Mr.
From a Nation of Heroes emerges new generations of hope.
Generations that shed light to those who have been stuck in
a dark tunnel of despair. We must keep in mind that, despite
a seemingly bleak future, we must continue to carry on for
our brothers and sisters; and continue to help those in
vulnerable situations, whoever, whenever and wherever they
may be. We must remember that deep in our hearts, there will
always be the fire of volunteerism and humanitarianism
burning, keeping the weak warm and fueling us to keep on