A Survivor’s Story

Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan is the Commanding Officer of TOG 8, the Air Force unit tasked to provide air support for the islands of Samar and Leyte. On the morning of Friday, November 8, he and his troops were in their office near the Tacloban Airport on red alert, having been informed of an incoming Super-Storm named Haiyan (local name: Yolanda). Here’s how he narrated his ordeal to Lt Col Allan Taguba, as Haiyan unleashed her fury on the city of Tacloban on that fateful Friday morning.

We were out of the office at 6 am Friday observing. Winds brought by Yolanda were already strong around that time. We (the Air Force troops in Tacloban) were prepared for the possibility of rescue missions days before the expected landfall of Yolanda. Just before 7 am, the rains started to pour, so we took shelter.

2h28

Around the same time, we noticed that water was slowly entering our office, so we went out again. Then suddenly, we saw that the water was getting higher and higher, until we were forced to get up the ceilings of the building. We had to bore holes on the ceiling just to get up there, and I was the last one up.

Suddenly the building collapsed and I saw my men falling into the surging water and very strong winds. There was also no more roof on top of the building. I was able to hold on to a piece of wood – a truss which I forcibly removed just before I was taken by waves and the strong current.

More damage in Tacloban

I didn’t notice that my two junior officers were now gone. Both were fresh graduates from the PMA, and they were beside me before we were swallowed by the water. Then I saw one of my soldiers trying to hold on to an uncollapsed wall of another destroyed building. I tried to reach for him but the current was too strong and there was confusion and hysteria.

I was going farther and farther out into the sea and all I saw were tips of coconut trees starting to disappear into the swelling water. Suddenly, I saw a child hugging tightly to a floating coconut tree. By a stroke of luck, the current led me to the child, and I was able to pluck him from his very unfortunate situation. He then held on to the piece of wood I was myself holding on to. Then we floated until we were out there in the middle of nowhere.

This photo was taken as the storm neared Leyte.

At sea, we went through another hell. We were slapped by waves, great big waves from all directions. We were also toyed by swirling winds. And we couldn’t help but drink a lot of salt water. I was now getting so tired. And so was Miguel (the boy’s name). He was just 7 years old. Too young to die, I thought. I thought of my family. I prayed to God to take care of my wife and kids. I thought I’ve done to them what every father could – that is, to take good care of them.

I also thought of my men. Days before, I had told them to ensure the safety of their families, especially those in Tacloban since the city could be hit hard and everyone of us would be busy in the rescue missions after Yolanda. They might not have time to check on their families during the rescue. Then I thought of the two new graduates of PMA 2013. I thought that if something happened to me, at least I had been able to give professional and honorable service for a time. And that I’ve done enough since graduation. These two young guys were just starting and still have a very bright future ahead.

2h13

Then I looked at Miguel. He was trembling hard due to the cold. His very young body could not just cope up with the elements. He said, “Kuya, I will sleep now. I’m so tired already.” Then I thought, maybe I survived because of this child. Without him I could have given up. Maybe he’s the reason I’m still alive because God wants me to make sure this child will live. I shouted at Miguel’s ears: “Don’t sleep! You can do it. Look, we are near land already.” Then I pointed at what I thought was another wall of swell, just to lift the spirit of Miguel. And then I realized that it was indeed the shoreline!! I thought there really is a Powerful Being!

The two survived Storm Haiyan and the rough seas between Leyte and Samar during the onslaught of the typhoon. They floated around the bay near Tacloban airport and were eventually rescued along the shorelines of Basey, Samar at around 1pm the same day. They had been floating for around 6 hours before they were rescued. Basey and Tacloban are separated by the San Pablo and San Pedro Bay. The devastation they saw along the Basey shoreline is another story worth telling. Some of Lt Col Carangan’s men are still missing. These men were supposed to take part in the relief and rescue operations for Leyte and Samar. Alas, it turned out that they too would be the very victims to Haiyan’s wrath.

For more stories on Super-Typhoon Yolanda, pls visit:

(Photos courtesy of AFP, Reuters)

639 comments

  1. Heart breaking story…this made me cry. I praise God for still making it. I pray that Miguel finally found his family…and praying for all those victims that amidst crisis they will still be able to stand up, recover and continue to run the race. Padayon Sir! Padayon Pilipinas!

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  2. I am so moved at your story Sir…and it reminded me of the recent movie my daughter and I have watched. It was a movie inspired by the Bangkok Tsunami in December several years back, that’s why it is so clear to me how horrifying this experience brought to you, Miguel and the rest of your men.

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  3. Hi Chay. Mabe here. This is such an inspiring albeit heart wrenching story. My sympathies to the Colonel on the loss of his men. Miracles do happen. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Dear LtCol. Fermin Carangan, Lt Col Allan Taguba & your Air Force men- thankyou so for sharing your story which I have shared with so many others. Its devastating what has happened to our Kababayans including my kasingmanwas from Capiz, Iiolio, Bacoloda & Cebu. At the same time heartening & hopeful to see such acts of courage & integrity in public servants like yours. Thankyou for being great mentors to our Youth -Best Regards Grace Barrios PS My Mom’s brother was Air Force Gen. Ataulfo “Toffee” Alvarez. They’ve both passed away

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    1. Is Lt/ Col. Allan Taguba from Tumauini, Isabela. If he is from that place he may be one of my relatives. You all have given your efforts to save people. Congratulations and may GOD bless all of you.

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  5. My prayers go to those who survived. Thank you also for sharing a wonderful story. May I know what happened to the boy Miguel, and where is he from? Please leave any contact information at my email, regards

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  6. is it possible for me to interview Col. Carangan for research purposes? If it’s possible ABS-CBN will be more than happy to feature his story of bravery…
    Charmine “CHAM” Cariazo
    ABS-CBN -Researcher

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  7. How can I know more about Miguel? I would like to send him a nice xmas present if I may.. Also, did he get reunited w his family?

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  8. a great piece, charly. i’m lucky to find my way to your website even if it was by accident. (i kept clicking the mouse not knowing what i wanted, really, because i’ve been feeling rudderless over this tragedy.) congratulations, and thank you for this story that makes readers like me feel that the story of survival is as much our own as it is of the subjects in this your written piece.

    alma

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  9. Was this story picked up by the media since i haven’t read or heard about it except from your blog.? Am just relieved and happy that they made it safe…!!!! been following very closely what’s going on over there… my college class have pooled our resources together to help the people affected in bohol thru our classmate who went home to sagbayan and in cebu we are doing relief good distribution in Daan Bantayan in a smaller scale….its hard when you are so far away and felt powerless. i was in pinas when the quake happened but was not in bohol yet….saw only tagbilaran and its aftermath,,…our house sustained moderate damage and not liveable from my point ,had to transfer my mom’s stuff to my niece house. all in all we came out of it well compared to the other places…just a lot of frayed nerves on my relatives cuz they are not used to the quake and esp. the aftershocks….again thanks for your blog…just wish people stop the bashing and just concentrate in helping those in need in any shape or form.

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    1. thanks for the help, and for following my blog, babes. you are right, aside from bohol, leyte and samar, there were other areas that are now disaster-stricken. i should take note of that in future articles. thanks for reminding. hope things are getting better in bohol too.

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  10. You’re one Truly Filipino sir. You and Miguel still have purpose. Maraming salamat for saving that young boy…God Bless Sir…

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  11. I cried when I first read this articile in a newspaper.. I can’t control my tears because I was thinking of my 8-yr old son who has medical condition. I thank God that you’re able to save Miguel, and he inspired you to try your best to survive. God bless you both.

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  12. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you could be a great author.I
    will be sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back later on.
    I want to encourage continue your great posts, have
    a nice evening!

    Like

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