'He saved us, and then he was gone'

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18-year-old rescues 30 people in Manila floods, then disappears in torrent

When the river near his Manila home burst its banks, Muelmar Luz Magallanes tied a rope around his waist and ferried his three younger siblings to safety. Then he went back for his parents, then for his neighbours, trapped on rooftops. Finally, Mr Magallanes rescued a six-month-old baby who was being swept away on a polystyrene box. But the young man paid for his heroic deeds with his life.

As the Philippines appealed for international aid yesterday, with the death toll from Tropical Storm Ketsana and devastating floods rising to 140, Mr Magallanes' family mourned their courageous son.

The 18-year-old construction worker saved more than 30 lives, including that of the baby and her mother, Menchie Penalosa. "He gave his life for my baby. I will never forget his sacrifice," said Mrs Penalosa.

With dozens of people still missing in Manila and nearby Rizal province, and nearly half a million displaced, authorities warned that a new storm expected to strike this week might add to the country's woes.

Last weekend's storm unleashed the heaviest rains for more than four decades on the Philippine capital and surrounding areas. Yesterday emergency workers struggled through knee-deep mud and putrid water in a desperate effort to help people still stranded.

Among those saved was Christine Reyes, a popular Philippine actress, who was marooned on a rooftop with her mother and two young children as the floodwaters rose.

In an ending worthy of one of her movies, Reye's rescuer was Richard Gutierrez, a film and TV heart-throb who borrowed an army speedboat and whisked her to safety.

The story – which is already being retold endlessly by movie-besotted Filipinos – began when Reyes, trapped by Ketsana, used her mobile phone to call a television station to make a frantic plea for help. "If the rains do not stop, the water will reach the roof," she said, weeping. "We do not know what to do. My mother doesn't know how to swim."

Gutierrez, a close friend and Reyes's co-star in an upcoming film, sped to the rescue. "We couldn't go fast because of the strong current and floating cars," he said yesterday. On reaching her house, he struggled to tie the boat to a tree amid the churning waters, then climbed up to the roof. Reyes said: "I thought it was our ending, but I did not lose hope." But Magallanes' story ended tragically after the young man, a strong swimmer, dived into the churning, debris-strewn waters time and again to help his neighbours in their riverside village. Mrs Penalosa and her baby were engulfed by the tide as they clung to a polystyrene box. "I didn't know the current was so strong," she said. Mrs Penalosa was sure she and her baby were going to die. "Then this man came from nowhere and grabbed us," she said. "He took us to where the other neighbours were, and then he was gone." Witnesses said that Mr Magallanes, by then exhausted, was simply swept away.

Saturday's storm dumped nearly 17 inches of rain in just 12 hours, inundating tens of thousands of houses and forcing residents to seek refuge in schools, churches and evacuation shelters. It also set off landslides that proved deadly. The extent of the destruction became clear yesterday as the floodwaters receded, leaving behind villages covered in mud and communities without water, food or power. In one Manila suburb, a sofa hung from overhead power wires.

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