TAYTAY TRAGEDY | Teen brothers, still in tight embrace, buried in landslide

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Erik Opilla, one of the first responders, points to the steep, narrow path leading down to the Fundals' home down the ravine. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON

TAYTAY, Rizal, Philippines – Two brothers aged 17 and 14 died, embracing each other, after rescuers lost a race to retrieve them from mud and debris in a landslide spawned by overnight rains Tuesday in a small creekside community in Taytay, east of Metro Manila.

“They kept shouting ‘saklolo’ [help!],” rescuers recalled the Fundal family members repeatedly shouting for about an hour, as they clawed away at the soil, mostly with bare hands, to save the victims. In the end, the parents – Jun and Judith – of the two teenaged boys survived, along with two younger children, but the father was disconsolate, blaming himself from bringing his family to live in a hazard zone.

The Fundal residence was one of two houses buried by a landslide at the height of heavy rains Tuesday morning as tropical depression Maring cut through at least 17 areas in Luzon.

There was no fatality in the other house involved in the landslide.

Neighbor Erik Opilla, 36, was among several men who rushed to rescue brothers Jude and Justin, whom he described as on top of each other, in a tight embrace when they were finally plucked out.

Noong una kong makita umiyak ako, nag-akapan sila,yung aso nasa tabi nila, itinapon na lang, hindi namin na pwersa ang mga bata kasi naiipit pa, mainit pa rin ‘yung nasa ilalim, hinawakan ko sa leeg, pero iyung nasa ibabaw…[When I first saw them I wept. They were embracing each other, a dog beside them. We could not just quickly pry away the brothers from the site because they were pinned under debris. The one beneath the other brother still felt warm to the touch when I tried to check his neck for a pulse].”

It was around 5 am, when they heard the distress call following a loud ‘bang’ as a portion of a wall collapsed, apparently as a result of soil erosion from continuouss rains from Maring and tropical storm Lanie.

Erik and several neighbors immediately negotiated the small ravine in Hapay na Mangga, Brgy. Dolores, just a few kilometres away from the PNP Hilltop Provincial Police Office at the boundary of Taytay and Antipolo.

Taytay landslide, BTesta 091217
The area leading to the spot where soil softened by nonstop, heavy rains buried two homes in Taytay, Rizal. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON

From the road, it is hard to reach the area because one must take steep steps from the 1-meter wide alleyway.

Erik told InterAksyon they used their bare hands to dig into the dirt, soil and the mud that brought down a wall onto the victims’ house.

“My hands got wounded from the naked clawing; others sustained wounds on their feet and legs, but we desperately went on, hoping to save the children. The older brother, Jude, was on top,” recalled Eric, speaking mostly in Filipino.

As rescue units arrived, the neighbors took the first-responder units’ ropes and equipment so they can hoist up the victims.

The Fundals’ two-storey residence is a mix of hollow blocks, wood, and GI sheets.

The brothers’ parents, Jun and Judith Fundal and two other children, Joshua, 15, and Jerome, 8, survived because they were sleeping on the ground floor.

According to William Espanola, Barangay Dolores satellite office head of rescue, “ang nag-survive po ay and mga
natutulog sa ibaba, ‘yung dalawang binatilyo nasa
[Those who survived were sleeping on the ground floor; the two teenaged brothers were on the] second floor.”

After the rescue at 10 am, Taytay Fire Marshal (BFP) chief S/Insp. Ireneo M. Servillejo made an ocular inspection, during which Barangay Dolores personnel were persuading the Fundals’ neighbors to evacuate as rains continued to soften the soil in the area.

Taytay landslide_Fire Marshall Ireneo Servillejo on inspection BTesta
Taytay Fire Marshall Ireneo Servillejo on inspection at the landslide scene. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON

The founder of the RIZPECT communication emergency reaction group, Edilardo “Jojo” Viterbi said, “mahaba pa ang ulan na ito, sana mag forced evacuation na sila bago mahuli ang lahat. Tumutulong lang kami sa LGU [This rains will last long; we hope the others will evacuate before it’s too late. We’re just here to help the LGU].” Their group was among the first responders.

The rest of the family were at the Hapay na Mangga Elementary School.

‘The earth shook’

According to Joshua, one of the surviving members of the Fundal family, the rains had fallen heavily and relentlessly, and they suddenly heard a loud sound at about 5 am.

Gumalaw po ‘yung lupa… humingi pa sila ng tulong kaso pag punta ko nadaganan na po [The earth shook. They called for help, but when I rushed to them, they were pinned beneath debris and soil],” he recalled of his brothers.

His father Jun Fundal was disconsolate: “Di ko na napabangon, gumuho na po yung lupa, ‘yun ang tumabon sa bahay namin [I could not get them; the earth had collapsed and buried our house].”

He added, in Filipino, “I did everything to try and get them, but I couldn’t pull them out because there were banana trees and lots of debris that got in the way.”

And then, as if addressing his family, he wept silently, “I hope you forgive me because I was the one who brought you all here.”

The Fundals’ grief over the siblings’ death and their loss of a home was compounded by a theft incident: someone had stolen some rice from them.

Senior Insp. Ireneo Servillejo, Taytay fire marshall, said the rest of the homes in harm’s way will certainly have to go. “Yung mga bahay nasa creek at ilog pinalikas na sa barangay hall para ‘di na madagdagan itong casualty [The homes along the creek have been told to evacuate to the barangay hall so as not to add to the casualty count].”

Geohazards_houses perched on cliffside, Taytay, BTesta 091217
The houses perched across the ravine are prone to landslide,
according to RIZPECT communication emergency reaction group founder
Edilardo “Jojo” Viterbi.
BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON