A long way off, but too close to home

Filipino students share stories of worry for loved ones in wake of typhoon

Jeniece Montellano, Staff Reporter

Two days after the worst recorded typhoon in modern history hit the Philippines, Patricia Janine heard reports that the storm’s 150 mile-an-hour gusts centered on Tacloban, her mother’s hometown. The Case Western Reserve University senior checked news updates constantly, hoping and praying that communication would be restored. In the meantime, she could only plead to her cousins in Manila to post updates of the aftermath. She donated what she could online, waiting to hear from her family.

The recorded death toll of Super Typhoon Haiyan has reached around 4,000, with more than 12,000 injured—a total larger than CWRU’s entire student body. More than 1,500 are missing, according to CNN reports. It is estimated that the more far-reaching islands have a much higher death toll due to inaccessibility to food, water and aid, bringing USA Today’s predicted total to more than 10,000 deaths. However, NBC News claimed it was difficult to understand the death toll, and stated that the Philippine government put the count at around 3,982 on Nov. 18.

Nearly two million people in the 44 provinces affected are homeless, with more than 56,000 homes destroyed on the island of Panay alone. According to official reports, every structure on the islands of Guiuan, located on the eastern part of the Philippines, is flattened. Blocked roads and poor infrastructure connecting many of the affected islands complicates aid distribution, as reports of looting and mobs multiply. Some of these islands have gone for days without food or fresh water.

“It was awful waiting to see if [my relatives] were okay since communication lines were down,” Janine said. “Five days after the typhoon, I received word from my mom and my aunt that her family is okay.” She continued, “But their house was destroyed and now they will be staying with other family members in Manila in an already crowded house.”

With the help of Duchesne Danna, a recent CWRU alumnus, Janine decided to work with the Phillipine Action Group to host a benefit dinner titled Ahon sa Alon: Rising from the Tides. All proceeds are going to the Philippine Red Cross’ Typhoon Haiyan relief effort. The event is set for 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 in Hovorka Atrium. Tickets are $10 for students, and cake pops will be for sale in the days leading up to the event in Fribley and Leutner. The event will have a raffle, performances, t-shirts for sale and Filipino food.

Sophomore Leina Lunasco’s grandparents go to the Philippines every year around mid-November to visit family in the north. This year, they are flying to Urdaneta, like always, but they know things will be different.

“Before they left for Urdaneta on Friday [Nov. 15], my grandma reminded me not to take anything for granted,” Lunasco said. “It’s just so sad that something so destructive can happen to innocent people, and the whole nation is in mourning. Many are making the effort to help those who have lost homes and loved ones.”

Compared to Hurricane Katrina, Haiyan had a smaller radius of impact, but a higher intensity in terms of wind power. Katrina’s winds peaked at 173 miles per hour (mph) compared to Haiyan’s 196 mph winds, according to The Washington Post. Experts say that aid from organizations such as the Red Cross has been helpful, but the Philippine government is struggling to get supplies out to islands that are only accessible by helicopter.
In an interview for The Observer with Nilo Rivera, a doctor from Pampanga, “[There was] no electricity [and] 95 percent of buildings were destroyed… Imagine post-apocalyptic movies. Many unburied corpses everywhere [and] massive looting.”

Dr. Rivera was on the first medical response team to Leyte. They saw about 3,000 patients and the only means of transportation were army trucks. The only food available was what they had brought with them. He also reported that many of the cities no longer had a formal government and mafias formed in order to gain access over the few supplies available.

The world has also responded, with individuals and countries pledging a total of over $192 million as of Nov. 19, with the U.S. at the top of the list. A statement released by President Obama on Nov. 10 reminds Filipinos that they are not alone:

“I know the incredible resiliency of the Philippine people, and I am confident that the spirit of Bayanihan will see you through this tragedy,” the statement reads. “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.”

Bayanihan translates to the spirit of working together. It’s a spirit shared by many Filipinos, a spirit they say is no more important than now.