11 trapped Maranaos swim through Agus River to flee Marawi City

MARAWI CITY — The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao- Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-HEART) has rescued 11 trapped Maranaos who braved swimming through Agus River amid gunfire and intermittent air strikes on Friday night.

With light from explosions guiding their way, Aminola Disonimba, 40, and 10 other civilians trapped since May 23 at Marawi’s Padian business district, an area controlled by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants, swam through the Agus River at 11p.m.

Aminola said they braved the heavy firefight, intermittent air strikes and the strong river current to make it to waiting rescuers– the seven-man team ARMM-HEART.

His group crossed the treacherous Agus River by swimming from Padian to the Buadi Sacayo district.

“Natakot talaga kami dahil baka kami na ang mahulugan ng bomba (We feared bombs may land in the river),” Aminola said. “We just had the determination to cross because that was the only way out in that situation.”

Aminola and his wife Delma, 48, were in Marawi for the month of Ramadhan. The couple was staying with Aminola’s brother in Padian.

Like all civilians in the city, Delma could not believe the havoc and chaos caused by the terror groups. “We have gone through armed conflict but did not expect it would last this long,” she said in the vernacular.

Delma could not count the hours she was able to sleep since most of the time she is awake, hoping to find an opportunity to escape.

Her group was very close to terrorists snipers thus the area was the objective of government forces.

After a few days of hiding, food supplies ran out and they had to rely on rainwater for drinking. She said if they will not escape they might die by stray bullets or bombs or starvation.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the ARMM-HEART said the team refused to halt its humanitarian action as more and more people are asking for help.

Although physically and mentally drained, the team also braved possible stray bullets that could hit them anytime while risking lives to save others’ lives.

Civilians still trapped in Marawi’s war zone strive for survival as the battle to free the city of the remaining militants rages on to its third week.

The ARMM- HEART rescue team was only armed with a megaphone, mobile phone, orange reflector shirts, training and years of experience in rescue and retrieval operation to save lives.

To date, the team had managed to rescue more than 4,000 trapped individuals since May 24, in coordination with the region’s Crisis Management Committee (CMC) in Cotabato City and the Provincial Management Committee of Lanao del Sur.

Distress calls are received and processed through the ARMM-CMC emergency hotline.

Based on distress calls, the ARMM-CMC reported that 1,379 civilians are still trapped in Marawi. These individuals are vulnerable to attacks from both the terror groups and government troops.

Now on its 19th day (Sunday), clashes have destroyed key and historic structures in the city, including its business district.

Around 240,000 individuals have also been forced out of their homes, mostly staying with relatives while some are in different evacuation centers.

Aminola and his wife were among the more than 2,465 evacuees getting treatment at the provincial capitol grounds. Relief goods for them were provided by ARMM-HEART.

Aside from the CMC in Cotabato City, the ARMM has set up operation centers in Marawi and Iligan City and in the town of Malabang in Lanao del Sur to coordinate the region’s humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis.

Every three to four days, the internally displaced persons received relief packs from the regional government. Edwin Fernandez/PNA-northboundasia.com