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Typhoon Goni: Philippines survivor tells of children swept away

By Virma Simonette

BBC News, Manila

Published

image copyrightPHL Red Cross

image captionSalvador Manrique survived a super typhoon, but lost his son

Holding his youngest child in one arm, supporting his wife with the other, and his four older children clinging onto his back, Salvador Manrique tried to cross the rising floodwaters.

They had known a super typhoon was coming and early on Sunday were woken by fierce winds and torrential rain.

But the volcanic mudflow triggered by the storm caught them by surprise.

“They were all hugging me,” Mr Manrique told the BBC. “The waters were rushing. It was strong. All of us were swept away.”

The 49-year-old rice and cabbage farmer survived typhoon Goni, known as Rolly in the Philippines, after it barrelled across the nation on 1 November, a day when Catholic Filipinos remember their dead.

But his youngest child – five-year-old Samuel – was carried away by the mudflow, his body found later that day in a neighbouring town 12 miles (19km) away.

His wife and eldest child remain missing.

image copyrightCHARISM SAYAT/Getty Images

image captionTyphoon Goni brought catastrophic winds and rain

Sitting next to his son’s coffin, Mr Manrique says he hadn’t anticipated such a flash flood in their hillside village of San Francisco on the island of Luzon.

“We were asked to evacuate but we didn’t leave. I was relaxed since we live in the highlands. The river had never overflowed,” he said.

But as they watched the river outside their bamboo hut surge with rain water as well as humongous rocks from the nearby volcano, he and his wife decided to seek safer ground.

Mr Manrique carried his youngest child, Samuel, 5, on his left arm while his wife, Elvie, was holding his right arm. Four of his children, Michaela, 18, Maria Luisa, 15, Hannah, 10, and Emmanuel, 8, were hugging his back.

They were halfway across the river when the water pulled the family apart.

media captionTyphoon devastates Philippines islands

“I almost lost consciousness after I was swept away,” he said. “But I searched for my family and saw three of my children clutching onto rocks.”

They were about 30 metres away but it took him three hours to rescue them from the fast-flowing currents.

The children escaped with minor cuts and bruises.

They took shelter at a family friend’s house in a nearby village before Mr Manrique began searching for his wife and two other children.

But later that afternoon a Philippine Red Cross team informed him about a child that had died from drowning.

The body had been found in the town of Oas, more than 12 miles away from the family’s home. It was first identified by a friend of Samuel’s, said Mr Manrique.

image copyrightPHL Red Cross

image captionMr Marique is still looking for his wife and daughter

The family are currently being housed in a chapel in their village because their hut was washed away.

Goni was the most powerful storm to hit the country since Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people in 2013. It has left 18 people dead and displaced around 112,000.

Six days after it struck, the grieving father is still searching for his wife and eldest child, 18-year-old Michaela – two of the three people the storm has left missing.

“This is a hard time for us. I do not know how we will survive. I just want their bodies to be found,” he said.

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