BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Six policemen of Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental were racing against the clock as Typhoon Odette was about to hit land in a neighboring Ilog town early Friday, December 17, just past midnight.
The team, led by Police Lieutenant Dennis Melgarejo and city hall driver Rogelio Cabahug Jr., had just fetched 17 children, aged one to nine years old, and nine adults in Sitio San Jose, Barangay 6 to be brought to a nearby evacuation center.
But the van they were riding on struggled against rising waters and a strong current. The cops found a spot where they and their passengers could find higher ground.
In the pitch-black night, the policemen helped their crying, shivering passengers, one by one to climb up a pili tree.
The children were repeatedly told, “Hang on tight and never let go.”
The policeman and the adults also climbed into another tree, where they waited for rescue. It was already 1 am.
They watched as roaring floodwaters swept their van off.
As the hours went on, the adults’ voices battled a howling wind to send words of comfort to the children.
Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Cruz, Kabankalan city police chief, said they got the SOS. Other cops rushed to the area to rescue the trapped policemen and the evacuees, but they were blocked by raging currents full of debris.
They barely made it back to their command center at city hall, just moments ahead of rampaging waters.
“All four of us were able to jump from the car, and swam to safety,” Cruz told Rappler.
At 7 am, another rescue team went to where colleagues and their wards were still clinging to trees.
They had to turn back again because of debris on the road. After two hours, a backhoe was finally able to penetrate the area.
Cops took down the children. But the adults had to stay. Waters began to rise again. A new batch of rescuers scurried back to the command center.
It was already past 1 pm, or 12 hours since they scrambled up a tree, when a boat finally came to take them down.
Cruz said they also lost the vehicle used in the attempt to rescue the first team. But the police chief shrugged off the material loss.
“That we saved everyone, all 26 evacuees and our six men, that’s all that matters now.”
Kabankalan, south of Negros Occidental’s capital city Bacolod, was among the worst-hit localities in the province. At least seven residents of the city perished, mostly by drowning, as Typhoon Odette unleashed its fury for a few hours on December 17, before leaving with 70% of Kabankalan under water. – Rappler.com