By MJ Evalarosa, IFRC

It had been raining consistently for the past week, but it wasn’t strong enough to alarm 64-year-old farmer Rodrigo Rodriguez. But on the morning of 22 December 2017, while looking out the window of his thatched house to the Cabuyao river in Dalama village, an agricultural town a thousand kilometers from Manila, he saw the river spilling over its banks.

The steady downpour and the occasional river swell was something that the Rodriguez family and the other 100 plus families living in the area were used to at this time of year. What jolted him into action was what the whole village heard a few moments later.

“First came a loud cracking sound that echoed loudly through the trees. Then we heard an almost deafening rush of water,” recalls Rodrigo. He, his wife Clarita, and 11 children heard the sound and knew immediately that they were in danger. “I looked out and saw the waters rising up real fast. I grabbed the baby, Joven, then yelled at my wife and kids to head for the bridge.”

Hobbling on his good foot, he used his wooden right leg as an anchor, sticking it into the mud for balance, and trying to keep three-month-old Joven above the flood waters, which quickly rose to his waist. His older kids carried their younger siblings on their backs.

Dangerously fast

With waters rising dangerously fast, he looked around, saw a mango tree several yards ahead that was on higher ground and yelled over the raging torrent for the family to head for the tree. Rodrigo doesn’t recall how he was able to get all 13 of them up the mango tree, himself included.

“At that moment, what I needed was to get everyone up that tree, or they will surely get swept away by the torrent,” says Rodrigo. “I was overcome with a sudden burst of energy. I’ve never moved so fast before.”

The family clung for dear life and watched in horror as a flash flood almost 10 feet high engulfed their village and many of its residents.

“The water just kept on rising. I could hear my wife praying while trying to console the baby,” adds Rodrigo.

Thankfully, the waters started to recede a few hours later, but the family stayed on the mango tree for some time.

“I didn’t bother going back to see of what’s left of my house,” explains Rodrigo. “All I wanted to do was to get my family out of the village into the evacuation center as quickly as possible.”

The Rodriguezes, along with some other 100 families, are now taking refuge at the Dalama Integrated High School or with relatives in the neighboring towns.

Immediate relief

The Philippine Red Cross provided immediate relief by serving hot meals to more than 7,000 individuals, distributed more than 400 food rations and 209,000 litres of water. They also provided psychosocial support to over 1,000 people, and assisted, rescued and transported over 600 others.

Families were also able to locate their missing relatives through the Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links programme and 14 welfare desks were set up to provide various services to the hardest hit communities.

By stocking relief goods for 1,000 families in Zamboanga del Norte and Lanao del Norte three days before Tembin’s landfall, the Red Cross was able to distribute essential non-food items and hygiene kits to the families most affected by the storm. Cash grants worth 3000 PHP (58.4 Swiss Francs) was awarded to families whose homes were destroyed.

When asked what he would buy with the cash grant, Rodrigo says his priority at the moment is for the family to buy milk for Joven. His wife Clarita has stopped lactating, perhaps due to stress brought by their ordeal.