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Whatever the risk to himself, Estanislao Angeles knew he had to brave the floodwaters to save his son from one of the worst storms to hit the Philippines in the past 40 years. His youngest child, 8-year-old Ronan, was staying with his grandparents and other relatives for the weekend in the low-lying area of Marikina, outside of Manila, when the torrential rains began on Friday, September 25, last year. Pounding precipitation was the norm for the stormy season and hardy Filipinos were used to floods that were more a nuisance than a threat to life.

Cleanup Crew

Days after the flood forced them from their home in the Philippines, family members began the slow cleanup process.

But this storm was different; the rain did not stop the next morning, or the afternoon. When the river burst over the dike behind his grandparents’ house, Ronan was caught with his relatives in a quickly rising tide that sent them scrambling for their lives. Estanislao, who lives on higher ground a few miles away, received text messages from his sister, whose reports from the house became increasingly short and distraught. Just before noon, the message was: “Pray for the rain to stop.” When he learned that the floodwater began washing across the ground floor, Estanislao texted back for someone to cut the electrical power in the house. He then heard that the water was rising up the steps as the family fled to the second floor. By 2:30 on Saturday afternoon, they were ready to climb out the top floor window onto a makeshift raft of bamboo poles, ropes and belts. The biggest problem was how to get Ronan’s grandfather, who walked with a cane, out the window.

Yet by some miracle, all 13 household members, including little Ronan, his aunts and cousins were able to float, one by one on the raft, to the higher roof of a nearby house that belonged to another relative. With the rain still pounding, there was no guarantee that the water, already 20 feet deep, would not reach the top of that house also, but it was their only chance of survival.

Estanislao was ready to rush to the house, but the entire flood area was cut off by swirling tides that lifted cars, trees and debris – and swept away bodies of those who could no longer swim. “It was a feeling of helplessness,” he recalled. “After a long, long time, I prayed.”

As darkness fell, the text messages from his sister became less frequent. One of the final text messages read: “No rescue yet. Down to last bar battery,” indicating that her cell phone was running out of power.  He did not know if his son was alive. “I tried to get it out of my mind,” he said.

Finally, around midnight, he got a message that the rain was slowing and the waters were gradually receding. Everyone on the roof was able to climb down into the top floor of the relative’s house. As dawn approached, Estanislao decided that it was time to rush into the water, no matter the consequences.

When he got to the flood area, he was told by government officers that he had to wait for one of the rescue boats to launch before setting out. “But my father is still there, and my son,” he pleaded. With a wink from the official, he jumped into a rubber motorboat with a rescuer and tried to navigate his way through submerged streets that looked suddenly unfamiliar. As he went, a father trapped on a rooftop thrust his baby into Estanislao’s arms, choosing the child’s safety over his own. He wrapped the undressed infant in a shirt he had brought for his own son and continued.

When Estanislao got to the house, he found his son shivering and shaken but very glad to see his father. He knew that his dad would come for him, the boy said. They hugged and gave thanks to God. Ronan and a younger cousin were taken to the hospital with a fever and their grandfather was treated for hypothermia, after spending nine hours on the roof in the rain.

Estanislao, a lawyer who sometimes takes payment in goods and services from poor clients who don’t have cash, said he learned one big lesson: cherish every moment with your children. His actions also showed that love is thicker than water.