Buried and rescued: Tales of landslide survivors, rescuers in Albay town

ALBAY, Philippines – It was a pitch-black night. A teen, who was going to their kitchen, used his cellphone's flashlight to see in the dark. His stepfather and two sisters were sound asleep. His mother was feeding the dog outside.

Except for the power outage and the nearly incessant rains for the last two days, all was well. Or so they thought until they heard the rumbling sound from the mountain. 

“Tiris (Landslide)," the woman outside the house thought upon hearing the sound.

In an instant, the raging mud and rocks fell on their house in barangay Maynonong in Tiwi –  one of the Albay towns severely hit by heavy rains brought by Tropical Depression Usman –  burying them all together. 

But Jayson was determined to survive. He kept on waving his one arm, the only part of his body up to his head that wasn’t buried, while holding the cellphone to catch attention.

Thankfully, their neighbors, a couple, rushed to where the light was and helped him. 

The teenager's body was wounded all over when rescued. But Jayson was more determined to find his parents and siblings. He called them out. Only his mother, Melita, responded.

"I'm here near the dog,” she said. 

“The small gap between my mouth and the mud allowed me to answer my son, despite being completely buried,” Melita said. 

Jayson wasted no time. He dug and dug until only her lower half body remained buried, while their neighbors called for help. 

“I would never leave our place without my family,” Jayson said.

While his resolve was firm, her mother was losing it.

“It was so painful being buried there for 5 hours. I told him I couldn’t bear it anymore,” Melita recalled. 

“You have to, mother. We  can’t lose you,” Jayson told his mother.

Jayson's two sisters who were buried in the landslide are his half-siblings from Melita's second marriage.  He had two older sisters based in Manila. They were supposed to be together that day for the holiday break, but the two got stranded in Camarines Sur because of the weather.

The community rescuers

“There were about 20 plus individuals who helped in rescuing Melita Consulta, Jayson’s mother,” said Barangay Maynonong chairman Edwina Tevez. 

According to Erik Bonaobra, one of the rescuers who acted as the leader, it took them hours to rescue her because a motorcycle had pinned her down.

RESCUER. Erik Bonaobra, lead community rescuer, is staying in an evacuation center in Barangay Naga in Tiwi while waiting for his relative in Manila to send him money for his bus fare. Photo by Mavic CondePhoto by Mavic Conde

RESCUER. Erik Bonaobra, lead community rescuer, is staying in an evacuation center in Barangay Naga in Tiwi while waiting for his relative in Manila to send him money for his bus fare.

Photo by Mavic CondePhoto by Mavic Conde

“I almost had no voice from shouting, directing the group when to pull, all at the same time,” Bonaobra said. 

“We couldn’t afford to loosen our grasp. Hence, she would bear the weight,” he added. 

For Melita, she is beyond grateful to her son and her fellow villagers for saving her life. 

While she was waiting to be freed, she was faced with the tragic reality. “I also knew at that moment my sleeping husband and two daughters were dead,” a teary-eyed Melita said.

Bonaobra used to be part of the clearing operations team of an electric company, which gave him skills in rescue operations. He said helping save Melita was his way of reciprocating a good deed.

“I nearly drowned before but my peers saved me. That was my way of paying it forward,” he said. 

On loss and survival

The Consulta family lost 3 members. Their bodies were retrieved the next day and were recently interred.

DEATH IN THE FMILY. Villagers bring out the dead members of the Consulta family. Photo by Vin Sy

DEATH IN THE FMILY. Villagers bring out the dead members of the Consulta family.

Photo by Vin Sy

The village rescuers immediately brought their bodies downtown by boat, despite the rough seas and the absence of a professional rescue team from the municipality because of road and sea hazards at the time.

“We had to be quick because their bodies had started to smell,” said Bonaobra. 

Jayson and Melita found themselves in a bittersweet situation.

“Buhay nga pero may mga nawala naman. Kaya masaya na malungkot (We're alive but also lost loved ones. So it’s a kind of happy and sad state at the same time)," Jayson said

Melita agreed, adding, "People are telling me to carry on, but losing loved ones unexpectedly makes that harder to do."

Melita said that what happened to them should serve as a lesson to their family and others to be more vigilant in times of potential disasters. – Rappler.com