It’s a ‘miracle,’ says lieutenant who survived Pablo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 December)– “Miracle ang nangyari sa akin (What happened to me was a miracle),” Second Lieutenant Jose Enrico Nuas said of his harrowing experience while Typhoon Pablo battered them last week.

What was once the center of Barangay Andap in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province is now a new riverbed with an estimated width of nearly a kilometer stretching up to eight kilometers down to the town proper. Mindanews Photo by Ruby Thursday More
What was once the center of Barangay Andap in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province is now a new riverbed with an estimated width of nearly a kilometer stretching up to eight kilometers down to the town proper. Mindanews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

In fact, “God” was the only word that the junior officer recalled uttering that time while struggling to resurface from the raging waters in Barangay Andap, New Bataan in Compostela Valley province, one of the hardest hit areas of the typhoon.

Recuperating from various wounds at a military hospital here, the 26-year old officer recalled his tormenting experience after they were washed away by flashflood on December 4.

Nuas said strong winds awakened him to see that their huts were already damaged. He was among the company-sized soldiers living in huts made of light materials beside the Catholic chapel in Barangay Andap.

“I was already up at around 4 a.m. because of the strong winds. But the rain was just moderate,” said Nuas, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 2012.

At around 6 a.m., rampaging waters have already inundated Barangay Andap, and the people were already scampering to higher grounds, recalled Nuas, who suffered gashes all over his body.

But many were trapped in their houses, trees and any concrete structures that they could hold for their lives.

Due to the flashflood, his colleagues have gathered the people at the barangay hall, while some have already boarded the military vehicle for evacuation, he recounted.

Truck turns up side down

“When the truck negotiated the flooded road for few meters, a wave of water rammed the vehicle and throw away the people,” Nuas said, adding the remaining soldiers scampered to save the villagers and their colleagues since the vehicle was already upside down.

The Army officer said their priority was to help the people from being swept away by the raging waters.

Nuas added that they even had no time to secure some of their equipment since the water rose too quickly.

He also recalled that some of the soldiers and villagers rushed inside the nearby chapel. “Some soldiers and the civilians survived, but I think some civilians also drowned.”

When MindaNews showed him photos of the wiped out Andap village, he was stunned to see the chapel’s altar still intact amid the devastation around it.

The walls of the chapel were made of concrete and light materials. The front part was totally destroyed.

Villagers praying and crying

While gathered at the concrete barangay stage, Nuas noticed that many people were praying and crying as the raging waters came wave by wave.

“As the raging waters started to rise up to our hips while we were on the platform, one of my men told me that it’s time to cross the water and look for a higher ground,” he recalled.

Nuas and three of his men jumped into the water in the hope to reach a higher ground, hoping to get back to help the villagers who remained at the barangay hall. But the water current was already very strong and they were carried away.

The Army officer, who hails from Quezon City, said he was carried away along with logs and rocks that hit him all over his body. Then he found himself underwater.

“The only word I was able to say was God, and seconds later I was already afloat as if somebody pushed me up to the surface amid the raging waters,” Nuas narrated.

While afloat, he prayed that he would not be hit again by another wave of water as he struggled to swim to safety.

Eventually, the water carried him to a standing coconut trunk where he held on and was later joined by a colleague, Private First Class Arbet Puyonan.

Two of their colleagues were later recovered dead few kilometers away.

As they eventually reached the higher ground, Nuas said a gay villager rescued them. They were taken into a house and given food and clothing. “Our clothes were torn. My whole body was aching as I was having a rest in the hut.”

The young officer said he is very lucky that he had no fractured bones, unlike Puyonan who was airlifted to a military hospital in Manila due to the extent of injuries he suffered.

Many villagers were swept away

Nuas could not exactly recall how many people sought refuge on the concrete platform, as some of them were on the rooftop, before they crossed the floodwaters. “I could no longer remember the exact figures because everything happened so fast.”

But he said many have sought refuge in the two-story barangay hall, which was also swept away.

The local disaster desk in New Bataan recorded 327 fatalities while 457 others remained missing. Most of them are from Barangay Andap.

Love the first assignment

Once fully recovered, Nuas said he would love to be back in New Bataan since it is his first assignment. He was deployed just in July this year.

“I promised to myself to be back in New Bataan and to love my first assignment,” he said, occasionally grimacing in pain.

Nuas said he was lucky to have survived given the magnitude of the flashflood.

However, he felt so bad that many of the people and his colleagues were not able to survive Pablo’s fury. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)