Local relief efforts get under way as the Philippines recovers from Typhoon Haiyan
By André Coleman 11/13/2013
In the wake of the worst known typhoon to hit the Philippine Islands, leaving thousands dead and a scene of what one American general surveying the scene called “total devastation,” people in Southern California waited anxiously this week to hear from relatives and friends affected by the storm.
The first relief to the typhoon-battered island nation from Monrovia-based World Vision — some 5,000 blankets and 3,000 plastic sheets that will be used to help survivors build temporary shelters — arrived in Manila on Monday, said officials with the nonprofit organization.
On Wednesday, KABC Channel 7 was set to team up with the American Red Cross San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter for a charity event in the Rose Bowl, said local Red Cross CEO Ben Green.
The American Red Cross has launched a family tracing service to aid Filipinos living in the United States searching for missing family members. Checks intended to provide relief should be mailed to the American Red Cross San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter with the words “Philippines Typhoons and Flood” written into the memo line of the check. The organization has deployed two disaster relief specialists to assist in the recovery and plans to send two telecommunication specialists and a satellite system in the coming days to help reestablish communications in the region.
“This is a horrific event,” said Green. “A lot of people are suffering and we fear there will be a lot more loss because the needs are not being met. This is a great reminder that the number one need in an emergency is water. If we have a major earthquake, it won’t know socioeconomic boundaries. If people don’t have water, they will die. We need to be prepared. We could have this kind of event.”
Churches throughout the San Gabriel Valley have also started separate relief efforts to help those hit hardest by the typhoon, including the Central Filipino Seventh Day Adventist Church on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock. The church will begin taking donations on Saturday.
“A lot of the members in the congregation have family in the Philippines,” said church secretary Daisy Manaz. “The news has been very slow coming in.”
According to government officials, at least 2,000 people in Tacloban — a city of about 200,000 located roughly 350 miles southeast of the capital Manila — are feared dead in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), a Category 5 storm, which devastated parts of the Philippines on Friday when it made landfall with wind gusts reaching speeds of 175 mph.
Meanwhile, aid began to slowly find its way into the area from local and national organizations as local Filipino residents started grassroots collections of food, clothing and money while they waited for word on missing loved ones.
On Monday, CBS News reported hundreds of bloated bodies remained in the streets as survivors pleaded for aid. According to authorities, at least 23,000 buildings were destroyed, ships and trucks had been washed out to sea, and large areas of the coast had been destroyed, blocking roads and bridges and leaving authorities fearing that decomposing bodies were trapped underneath the rubble.
In total, the typhoon has affected 4.3 million people across 36 provinces. Philippine Red Cross volunteers throughout the region are reporting that 1,200 evacuation centers are housing more than 330,000 people left homeless by the storm, which had moved into northern Vietnam. As of press time, no casualties had been reported in that area.
“There are too many people dead,” Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “We have bodies in the water, bodies on the bridges, bodies on the side of the road.”
The debris made it difficult for military troops and disaster relief organizations to provide relief on Monday. They struggled to reach survivors left homeless by the history-making storm. Another tropical but less powerful system had moved in early Monday, delivering more rain.
In a report posted on the Doctors Without Borders Web site, Philippines Emergency Coordinator Dr. Natasha Reyes said the group had received reports that “people are walking around aimlessly, completely desperate.”
According to a Reuters report, soldiers were guarding stores to discourage looters from stealing water, but no one was moving bodies.
Typhoon Haiyan is the second Category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year. In September, Typhoon Usagi (Odette) slammed into the same area, killing two people and destroying 15,000 homes. The Philippines gets hit with about 20 typhoons a year.
“What a tragedy,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory Meteorologist Bill Patzert. “The Western Pacific gets battered more than any other area. When you get a storm with winds of more than 150 mph, we call them super typhoons. This was a super-duper typhoon. It was very intense and very wet and very punishing. It was a very large typhoon. It covered a big area, fortunately it moved through quickly but it dumped an awful lot of rain. No place gets hit more often than the Philippines. It’s the bulls-eye of the Western Pacific.”
Patzert said the unusually strong weather system could not be blamed on global warming, adding that it was extremely punishing because there are a lot of people living in a high-risk area.
According to the US Census, there are 4 million Filipinos living in America, with 1 million of those people living in Southern California. About 375,000 Filipinos live in Los Angeles County.
After news of the devastation made its way back to Southern California, relief efforts began. Sunday morning, 300 people participated in a 5K walk held by the Philippine Disaster Relief Organization in Van Nuys. The event was originally held to raise money for survivors of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that stuck the Philippines on Oct. 15, killing 222 people and injuring 976. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, $7,000 in relief funds raised with the run will be sent as typhoon aid. Several boxes of food and canned goods will also be sent for earthquake relief.
President Barack Obama expressed sadness over the devastation and said that the people in the region could depend on the United States for relief.
“The United States is already providing significant humanitarian assistance, and we stand ready to further assist the government’s relief and recovery efforts. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the millions of people affected by this devastating storm,” Obama said.
According to the White House, the US government has responded to more than 40 disasters in the Philippines at the request of that country’s government since 1990, events ranging from volcanic eruptions and drought to population displacement.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Sunday directed the US Pacific Command to support American humanitarian relief efforts in the Philippines in the wake of the storm. One day after the storm, US Marines carrying food, water and generators arrived.
On Monday, US Army Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy surveyed the area during a two-hour helicopter flight. Kennedy told The Associated Press on Monday after the flight that the only way to describe the scene on the ground was “total devastation.”
According to Kennedy, every house or building he saw was completely destroyed or severely damaged. Trees were uprooted for miles, power lines were down and roads were impassible.
“We saw bodies everywhere,” he said. “I don’t know how else you can describe total devastation.”