The Philippines are familiar with monstrous tropical cyclones called typhoons that sweep over the island nation several times a year. However, in 2009 an altogether different and more terrifying beast roared ashore. Typhoon Ketsana, one of the most devastating storms in the country’s history, dumped record amounts of rain. The streets of Manila raged with rapidly rising floodwaters.
Realizing that the river, just 800 metres from their home, had burst its banks the Magallanes family knew they must evacuate their home. With the help of an older brother, Muelmar Magallanes tied a string around his waist and attached it, one by one, to his three younger siblings, whom he took to higher ground. Then he came back for his parents.
Mr. Magallanes, an 18 year old construction worker watched horrified as his neighbours were swept away. Leaping to their aid he plunged into the turbulent, muddy water filled with dangerous debris again and again, saving more than 30 lives.
Tired and shivering, Mr Magallanes was back on higher ground with his family when he heard Ms Penalosa screaming as she and her six month old daughter were being swept away by the torrent on a polystyrene box they were using in an attempt to cross the swift currents.
He dove back in after the mother and daughter, who were already a few metres away and bobbing precariously among the debris floating on the brown water. Muelmar swam after them, eventually dragging them to safety.
But the teen was exhausted by his superhuman efforts, and moments after rescuing Penalosa and her baby, Magallanes submerged beneath the water and was gone. The young hero’s corpse was found the next day, several miles away.
“I didn’t know that the current was so strong. In an instant, I was under water. We were going to die,” said Ms Penalosa, her eyes welling with tears and voice choking with emotion.
“Then this man came from nowhere and grabbed us. He took us to where the other neighbours were, and then he was gone,” Ms Penalosa said.
When Menchie Penalosa went to pay her respects beside Muelmar’s coffin, she said, “He gave his life for me and my baby and I’ll never forget his sacrifice. I’ll be grateful to him for the rest of my life.”