PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan – Two sisters and their cousin died Wednesday afternoon in a river in the town of Busuanga, northern Palawan in what was considered a Tropical Depression Ramil-related drowning incident.

The victims, who died in Demachikchik River in Sitio Demegan, Barangay Salvacion in Busuanga, were identified Wednesday, November 1, by Senior Police Officer 2 Rolando Bernas, municipal station chief, as Catherine Apolinario, 13; and Katrina Apolinario, 12, who were sisters; and their cousin Laiza Mayo, 21, all residents of the villages.

They were part of a group of eight friends and relatives who went on a picnic by the river.

Bernas said the three drowned shortly before 3 p.m.

Initial investigation showed the group decided to swim in the river after hearing mass in the morning.

Bernas said while they were already swimming, one of them reached a deep portion of the river where the current was strong.

The companions tried to pull her but the victims do not know how to swim.

The police officer said there were five persons who held on to one another, but only two were saved.

The three victims were rushed to the Busuanga rural health unit where they were declared dead.

According to Bernas, one of their friends was able to call for rescue and the disaster team from the municipality and the team were able to respond immediately "but to no avail."

“The three were not saved since they strayed in a much deeper part of the river," the police official said.

He attributed the strong current for the rescue to be difficult. "It was not really raining hard but the river current was really strong," he said.

Busuanga Mayor Beth Cervantes said the Municipal Government has already extended help to the affected families.

“It’s really a sad incident. We are extending support to the families of the three victims since we also heard the parents of the two siblings are in the hospital too,” Cervantes said.

She said that despite Ramil, the rain was not that strong in Busuanga.

“Actually, the reason why the MDRRMO was able to respond at once was that we were ready for ‘Ramil’,” the mayor said.

MDRRMO is the Municipal Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Office.

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said Ramil has already intensified as a Tropical Storm.

It is located 365 kilometers (km) west of Coron, Palawan, and continues to move west over the West Philippine Sea.

Busuanga, which is in the Calamian Group of Islands, northern Palawan, was put under Signal No. 1 by the state weather bureau.

The tropical storm has maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and gustiness of up to 80 kph. (PNA)