Philippine typhoon tragedy hits close to home

Posted December 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm


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Many people are no doubt aware of the monster Typhoon Haiyan that devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, in early November.

The typhoon, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, formed November 7, and dissipated by November 11. It was at its peak intensity on November 7. Haiyan is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, and the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the fourth strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed.

Flora Ames has lived south of Miller for seven years, but she grew up in the Philippines, living primarily in Manila.

She explained, “My mom is from the island of Leyte, and most of her immediate family lived in Tacloban.” Tacloban is a city of about 220,000 on that island, and it was the worst hit by Haiyan.

When the storm hit, Flora says there was no way to communicate with relatives in the Philippines. “I finally got in contact with a nephew in Manila, and from there I was able to get contacts to Leyte.”

In her own words, “It has been weeks that I wondered how my relatives have been doing. For days…weeks. I was monitoring the news, looking for their names on the survivors’ list in the Tacloban area.” The names she was looking for weren’t there.

“Finally, after weeks of searching, my cousin’s voice came on the phone and broke the news. Unexpected news, the worst news I’ve ever gotten. She said, ‘All of them died. Only one survived.’ These were our aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces.”

With sorrow in her voice, Flora said, “Fifty to sixty members of our clan, our family, lost their lives in Tacloban.”

She related that, in watching coverage of the disaster, it occurred to her that some of her relatives could be in the body bags shown on television.

“Many bodies have not been found. Many that have been found will be buried in mass graves, unidentified.”

Flora explained that her mother died in 2002…but all her remaining relatives were concentrated in the province of Leyte. She has some relatives in the U.S. on her late father’s side…but on her mother’s side, family has basically been “washed away.”

Flora says Leyte is almost a total wreck. “I think towering waves did the damage,” she commented.

Authorities agree, stating, “Most of the deaths appear to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris, leveling housing and drowning hundreds of people in one of the worst disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asia nation.”

Survivors are coping with loss and are homeless, including the cousin who spoke to Flora. “She lost their house, along with 300 other families in that far-flung town miles away from the raging waves of the sea. They don’t have shelter. Every family tries to find ways to shelter themselves with something they can put above their heads. It rains most of the time.”

There was one bright spot, Flora says, because an aunt escaped a terrible death. “She went to Manila with her husband to visit their daughter a week before Haiyan hit Leyte.” But, the aunt also lost her parents, all her siblings and the rest of their families.

Reports say at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, and it is likely the deadliest natural disaster to hit the Philippines. “Entire villages were destroyed and cities devastated by huge waves and winds of nearly 150 mph.”

For Flora, the loss is on a personal level. She and her husband Don live south of Miller, at the Hiway Store location, far away from tidal waves and crushing winds…but she mourns her family members who were in the path of the typhoon.

“Fr. Jim Friedrich has offered to hold a Memorial Mass for my relatives at Duncan St. Placidus Church,” Flora related. “It will be Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. People around the area are welcome to come. It’s a way to remember the family members, because of course we don’t know what happened to them, or where they might have been buried.”

(Aside: Numerous agencies are helping the typhoon victims, such as The American Red Cross, Shelterbox, Doctors Without Borders and World Vision. On the Internet, type in www.weather.com/news/super-typhoon-haiyan-aid-groups.)

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