Passengers recount horror of Philippine ferry sinking
Survivors of ferry tragedy describe losing loved ones and clambering over corpses, as Philippine authorities suspend search for 171 missing
The brother of a survivor in the Philippine ferry tragedy has told how his sister and mother were separated as they were plunged into the cold water in darkness.
Maribel Manalo, 23, recounted to her sibling the horror of emerging from the chaos without her mother.
"She said there was a banging noise then the boat suddenly started sinking," the brother, Arvin Manalo, said.
"They quickly strapped on life jackets and then jumped into the dark sea. She said they felt like they were pulled under. My sister said she pushed our mother up, but they got separated.
"My sister was rescued. My sister knows how to swim, but my mother does not."
Their 56-year-old mother was among 171 people still unaccounted for yesterday after the ferry and a cargo ship collided, with the ferry sinking almost instantly.
The accident occurred at 9pm on Friday in calm waters near the mouth of Cebu port, between two and three kilometres from shore, authorities said.
One survivor, Lolita Gonzaga, 57, recalled the terror of falling from the top deck of the ship to the bottom level when the collision occurred, then the horror of escaping the black waters with her 62-year-old husband.
"When we were rescued we had to share the rubber boat with a dead woman. She was just lying there," Gonzaga said from a hospital bed in Cebu where she was nursing spinal injuries.
"We were transferred to the other ship that hit us, but I could not go up the stairs because it was full of dead people.
"They were left hanging there. We thought we were going to die. I just held hands with my husband and prayed to God to save us."
Another passenger, Rolando Manliguis, was watching a live band when "suddenly I heard what sounded like a blast. The singer was thrown in front of me." He said he rushed to wake up his wife and their two children but the water was rising fast.
"When the boat was on its side, the water level was here," he said, pointing to his neck. "I thought about my child. It's a good thing that someone helped us immediately."
He said they roped down the side of the ferry into the sea and were put on a life raft.
Jerwin Agudong was one of hundreds of passengers who jumped into the ocean as the ship started to sink.
He told radio station DZBB that some people were trapped and he saw bodies in the water.
"It seems some were not able to get out. I pity the children. We saw dead bodies on the side, and some being rescued," he said.
Jenalyn Labanos, 31, said the lights went out and the ferry quickly tilted to its side after the impact, throwing her and two companions to the floor.
"People panicked and the crew later handed out life vests and used their flashlights to guide us out of the ship but they could not control the passengers because the ship was already tilting," she said.
She said she suffered bruises on her hands and feet as she grabbed a rope on the side of the vessel before jumping into the water.
"I just thought to myself that I have to survive this. I left everything, my bag, my money and my passport," she said. She was headed to Manila for a flight to Dubai where she has been hired as a maid.
Fishermen on shore said they saw flares.
"It was very dark and we could hear a lot of people shouting, asking for help," said George Palmero, a 35-year-old fisherman who helped pull 10 survivors from the water.
"We just picked up the survivors and left the dead in the water," he said. "I heard screams and crying."
Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press