Survivor: I heard my daughter's cries as the flood took her

Leo Solinap

BATAD, Iloilo - "Mama, Mama!"

Those were desperate cries for help that Alma de Asis, 64, heard for the last time as she held on to a tree while a flashflood swept her daughter away.

It was dark and she could no longer see her daughter Ljee, 12, but her cries rang out and Alma could not do anything except scream her daughter's nickname, "Angga, Angga!"

Then there was silence and Alma knew her daughter was gone.

Alma is one of two survivors of the flashflood that swept through Barangay Pasayan in Batad town, Iloilo at about 2 a.m. of Christmas Day, while Typhoon Ursula's powerful winds and intense rains lashed central Philippines.

Her nephew, Roel de Asis, 42, and his daughters Rosemay, 15, and Rhianna, 3, drowned. Roel's son Roel Jr., 10, was still missing as of Friday, December 27.

The bodies of Roel and his daughters were recovered in a ricefield more than 12 hours later. Rescuers found Rhianna first, at about 2 p.m. Wednesday. Roel and Rosemay's bodies were found several meters away after about two hours later.

Roel's wife and mother of his children, Andrea, was in Manila waiting for her flight to Kuwait when news of the tragedy reached her. Instead of leaving the country, Andrea flew back to Iloilo.

Ljee, 12, was the daughter of Alma's deceased brother, Alberto, whom she had adopted. Her body was found in the morning of December 26, more than 24 hours after she was swept away.

Alma said Roel and his children lived in Barotac Nuevo town, which is five towns away from Batad. They were in town for the wake and funeral of Roel's father, Alberto, who was Alma's brother.

Alma said in an interview that they had decided at 2 a.m. Wednesday, December 25, to leave the house and Alberto's remains to seek higher ground because their house was flooded and the water level was rising.

She remembered giving Roel a flashlight as they left the house.

Alma and daughter Ljee, Roel and his three children, and Roel's godchild Fredie Diel, 10, had just emerged from the house when the strong current swept Roel and his children away.

Alma said she and Ljee were also carried by the floodwaters to another direction. Alma said she tried to hold Ljee but the strong current separated them.

"All I could hear as she was being washed away was her voice crying, 'Mama, Mama'," Alma recalled tearfully in Hiligaynon.

Had it been daylight, she said she could have located her daughter and swam to her. But it was pitch dark. The typhoon had cut off power lines and the lights had gone out earlier.

Alma said she swam to a nearby tree and clung to it for three to four hours before she got rescued by relatives.

"Lord, help me, give me strength to survive," she recalled praying as she looked up at the sky.

"As I cried, I told myself my daughter was gone and I will not give up now as long as I have strength. I will save myself," Alma said.

Her relatives later rescued her by tying ropes to their bodies.

Fredie Diel, meanwhile, had also found a tree and held on until he was rescued.

Andrea, wife of Roel, arrived in Batad from Manila on December 26 and found her husband and children in a funeral home.

She lamented that she should have died instead of her children. She said she would bring their remains back to Barotac Nuevo as soon as her son Roel Jr. is found.

Andrea said her last communication with her husband was on Christmas eve. They had greeted each other with "Merry Christmas" through text messages.

Roel had told her then that power was down in Barangay Pasayan because of the typhoon.

Little did she know that it was going to be her husband's last message.

The De Asis family were among the 16 individuals in Western Visayas who perished at the height of Typhoon Ursula, a powerful typhoon that devastated the same areas destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.

Typhoon Ursula was packing winds of 140 to 195 kilometers per hour when it barreled through central Philippines on Christmas eve and Christmas Day.

As of Friday, December 27, 2019 the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the death toll from the typhoon had gone up to 28. (SunStar Philippines)