A Christmas miracle: 275 swept to sea rescued

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/17 December) — A Christmas miracle happened in the high seas of Macajalar Bay Saturday as 275 men, women and children swept to sea by the mammoth floods unleashed by tropical storm Sendong were rescued by fisherfolk, a ship’s crew and Air Force personnel.

The daring rescue  from the clutches of death was welcome news to Cagayan de Oro residents already shaken upon waking up on Saturday morning to horrible tales of the  “ hundreds  who perished” in the worst flood that hit Cagayan de Oro City.

“There would have been 200 more victims if not for these fishermen, a member of the crew of a Ro-Ro ferry and Air force personnel who conducted their own separate rescue operations to save these people,”  said Engr. Armen Cuenca, Cagayan de Oro City Alert Deputy Incident Commander.

The floods left at least 347 persons dead: at least 277 in Cagayan de Oro and 70 in Iligan City. At least 200 remain missing in Iligan. (see other story)

Residents living on the banks of Cagayan de Oro River were swept to sea after their houses in barangays Macasandig, Consolacion, Macabalan, Balulang and Puntod were swept away ed by typhoon Sendong.

“It was chilling to hear their pleas for help. I saw one of them shaking a flashlight in the hope that we could see the beam. We were helpless, “Maynardo Reyes, a taxi driver said.

Reyes said he and other cab drivers were on top of the Maharlika Bridge Saturday dawn and witnessed how people were carried away by the strong river current.

He said many were clutching at lumber or anything that could keep them afloat.

By daybreak, stories of how many people were carried to the sea shocked many residents.

Local radio stations were flooded by distress calls from residents who were swept to Macajalar Bay.

“Apparently many of them had their mobile phones and they used them to call their relatives or radio stations,” Cuenca said.

It was the fisherfolk in the City of El Salvador and neighboring Opol town who first responded to the distress calls.

Using their small motorized bancas, the fisherfolk braved the heavy seas and started the rescue.

Teddy Sabugaa, Misamis Oriental provincial disaster officer, said the fishermen plucked to safety 120 persons in Opol and another 60 in El Salvador.

“It was a miracle that so many people were saved. It would have been a gloomy Christmas for many,” Sabugaa said.

Before noon, a passing RoRo ferry from Camiguin Island bound for Balingoan, Misamis Oriental rescued another group of 75 persons who were floating at sea.

Later in the afternoon,  Air Force helicopters landed on a small wind-swept island of Isla Puntod at the mouth of Cagayan de Oro river and rescued 20 persons. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)