Philippine flood victim hailed a hero
Muelmar Magallanes braved rampaging floods to save more than 30 people, but ended up sacrificing his life in a last trip to rescue a baby girl who was being swept away on a styrofoam box.world Updated: Sep 28, 2009 12:49 IST
Muelmar Magallanes braved rampaging floods to save more than 30 people, but ended up sacrificing his life in a last trip to rescue a baby girl who was being swept away on a styrofoam box.
Family members and people who Magallenes saved hailed the 18-year-old construction worker on Monday a hero, as his body lay in a coffin at a makeshift evacuation centre near their destroyed Manila riverside village.
"I am going to be forever grateful to Muelmar. He gave his life for my baby. I will never forget his sacrifice," said Menchie Penalosa, the mother of the six-month-old girl whom he carried to safety before being swept away himself.
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 Magallanes and his father quickly decided to evacuate the family once they realised the river 800 metres (2,600 feet) away had burst its banks.
With the help of an older brother, 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 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, Magallanes was back on higher ground with his family when he heard 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 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," Penalosa said.
Penalosa and other witnesses said an exhausted Magallanes was simply washed away amid the torrent of water.
Neighbours found his body on Sunday, along with 28 others who perished amid Manila's epic flooding. The official death toll stands at 86 but that excludes those recovered in Magallanes' village, called Bagong Silangan.
Standing next to his coffin, 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."