QUINAPONDAN, Guiuan, Eastern Samar – Adrift in a boat in one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded to hit the Philippines, captain Richard Rama made a snap decision that kept him and his terrified crew alive.
“Don’t jump!” was the first order he shouted after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ripped his small flotilla of two tugboats and an empty 1,000-ton barge from their moorings on November 8 as the monster storm barrelled into the central Philippines.
The vessels had taken shelter in a bay on Samar island two days before Yolanda hit, but the tidal surge triggered by the typhoon snapped the moorings and dragged all three out to sea.
“The waves were hitting the barge’s pilot house,” Rama said, estimating their height at 4.5 meters (15 feet).
The decks flooded and the crew — nine in his boat, six in the other tugboat and three on the barge — donned life vests and prepared to abandon ship.
Rama, 37, estimated they were only 500 meters from the shore at the time, but the typhoon’s 315 kilometer (195 miles) per hour winds had whipped the sea into a frenzy.
“I knew that if one of them jumped into the water everyone else would follow,” he told AFP. “I also knew if they jumped they would die.”
Rama’s insistence that the crews stay on board paid off when, after 30 minutes of being tossed around like pieces of flotsam, a sudden surge carried the three vessels back towards the shore and deposited them, unscathed, 100 meters inland.
Nearly two weeks later, they were still there, as was Rama — his eyes red from lack of sleep and his hair caked with saltwater.
A dog and its pup roamed the deck of the barge which, despite the absence of any cargo, Rama continued to guard, waiting for a salvage