8-year old Abegail: “It was OK for me to drown as long as they would survive”

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/05 January) – It is difficult to imagine that this frail little girl of 8 years would survive the blind fury of Storm Sendong.  Abegail Jamero was swept and was buffeted by rampaging floodwaters for eight hours in pitch dark at the advent of the storm on 16 December 2011 in Cagayan de Oro City. How she tamed her fears revealed her character.

SURVIVOR. Eight-year old Abegail Jamero, of Sitio Cala-cala, Barangay Macasandig in Cagayan de Oro City. When the floodwaters were rising fast late evening of December 16, 26 members of her clan climbed to the rooftop, ten of them children. Abegail is the lone child survivor. . Abegail's photo taken during Christmas in the house of her grandpa "Papa Willy" in Naawan, Misamis Oriental. MindaNews photo courtesy of Willy Adan who wrote the story on Abegail's ordeal. Abegail is the daughter of my nephew from a failed relation. She stayed with her maternal grandparents, together with her siblings Mizha, 11 and Gerald, 9, in Sitio Cala-cala, Barangay Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro City. Their mother married another guy and had a two-year old son with him. This, notwithstanding, the three kids continued to receive financial support from their biological father and had remained close to his family.

Mizha and Gerald are still missing and are already presumed dead. The body of their half-brother was found on the shores of Alubijid, Misamis Oriental. Abegail’s grandparents were plucked alive by rescuers near Iligan City. Her mother, stepfather and an uncle were rescued in Camiguin. Her eight other relatives are still missing to this day.

Abegail spent Christmas 2011 with us in Naawan, Misamis Oriental. This is her story.

WRA: Exactly what happened on Friday evening (December 16)?

Abegail: The rains kept us all together in the two-storey house of my grandparents – my lolo and lola, my elder sister and elder brother, my aunt and uncles and my small cousin who occupied the first floor of the house. Mama and Papa (stepfather), who were residing in Kauswagan, dropped by for a visit with my younger brother that afternoon. There was merrymaking as the rains kept them from going out. They were eating, drinking and singing with the Karaoke.

WRA: It was raining the whole day. Did you not think of a possible flood at all?

Abegail: The house was strong and tall. In past floods, we simply gathered our things and moved them to the second floor.

WRA: At what time were you aware of the floods that evening?

Abegail: My other uncle in the neighborhood came at around 7 p.m. advising us to move out immediately because the river had swollen and the waters were rising fast. Someone looked outside but returned to continue singing.

WRA: They continued singing despite the warning?

Abegail: Yes, they only stopped when the light blinked and the power was gone. Then after a while, we heard a terrible sound, roaring and crashing. We felt the rush of cold waters into our feet. All of us ran outside. A ladder was leaned on a tree and we started climbing up to the top of the tree and to the rooftop of our house. All 15 of us were on the rooftop at no time at al.

WRA: No one was left below?

Abegail: None. We were all up and safe from the rising waters. Suddenly, however, there was a loud crashing sound. A post of something and a big log came banging together on the house and walloped it from its foundation. Then we started floating. We were huddled close to each other on the rooftop. I stayed nearest to my mama, brothers and elder sister.

WRA: It was raining hard and it was dark. Were you still able to see people and things around you?

Abegail: Yes, maybe their outline. But I saw things moving around us.

Eight year old Abegail, the lone survivor among ten children on their rooftop the night of the floods. MindaNews photo by Willy Adan

WRA: How long were you together on the roof and what separated you?

Abegail: I don’t know. Everything was so fast. But when we were approaching a bridge, the water began to rise and fall like a big wave. Then all of a sudden a log and an uprooted tree hit our rooftop and we were thrown to different directions. I found myself hugging a branch of a tree close to my aunt, her two year old boy and my brother Gerald clinging to her side. We were floating together for some time. She instructed me, “Abeging, no matter what happens never let loose of your hold on this tree. Don’t be afraid of the snakes. Just ignore them. They are just as scared as we are. Pray, Abeging, keep praying.”

WRA: There were snakes around you?

Abegail: Yes, they were crossing here and there. One, about a meter long, clung to a branch beside me. I just closed my eyes to avoid it.

WRA: What happened to your Aunt, your brother and her kid?

Abegail: Aunt Apple was  nine months pregnant and attending to my brother and her boy strained her. A familiar man, apparently our neighbor, drifted close to us and I asked him to save my aunt and the children with her. The man replied: “Strive to save your lives as I am also striving to save mine.” After saying this, a log hit him on the head and he immediately disappeared.

My aunt struggled hard to remain afloat, burdened by the two kids. All of a sudden, a wood hit her on the chest which momentarily loosened her grip on the boys. She lost them to the whirling currents. In her condition, Aunt Apple weakened easily. In a little while, she said goodbye to me. She said,  “Abeging, I am already very tired. I won’t make it, my dear. Just hold on and continue to pray.” Then she sank and disappeared. I was now alone and was terribly afraid for the first time. I cried and cried and cried until I felt very sleepy. I prayed hard and then remembered nothing.

WRA:  What happened after that?

Abegail: I supposed I had fallen asleep for a long time. A shower of pebbles woke me up. Some guys threw me those pebbles probably to determine whether I was still alive or already dead. I asked for help and they scampered for the rescuers who were just nearby. It was around 5 o’clock in the morning the day after the floods. People said I was washed ashore in Punta Bonbon, Cagayan de Oro.

WRA: Abeging, you alone survived among the kids in the family. Did you pray hard for your own survival?

Abegail: No, I was praying for the survival of my Aunt Apple, her boy, my elder sister, my brother and my mother – for all of my relatives, of course.  But, at one time, I particularly prayed hard for the safety and survival of my Aunt and the boys with her. I pitied her so much. I thought it was OK for me to drown as long as they would survive. But they all perished and I survived. It is very sad.

[Abegail spent Christmas with us in Naawan, Misamis Oriental, until her return to CDO to join her mother at the Macasandig Elementary School Evacuation Center before New Year’s eve. 

Abegail is in Grade 2 at City Central Elementary School, Cagayan de Oro City. She was a bronze medalist in Grade 1.

I finally made contact with Abegail’s mom on January 3.  She informed me that there were actually 26 of them on the rooftop of the house of her mother that fateful evening. Her cousins across the street joined them just before their own house was swallowed by the rampaging floodwaters.

Of the 26 family members and relatives, 11 survived the tragedy, two bodies were recovered and 13 are still missing to this day. Of the 10 children in the doomed house, only Abegail survived to tell her own story.

The survivors include Abegail’s mom and stepfather, grandparents, an aunt and five uncles.

Abegail now stays with her mom and stepdad in a rising tent city in Upper Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro)

 (The author, William R. Adan is former chancellor and professor of Mindanao State University in Naawan and  is the current alumni regent of MSU).