CNS PHOTO | ERIK DE CASTRO, REUTERS
Residents walk on a road littered with debris Nov. 10 after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban, Philippines. The typhoon is believed to have killed tens of thousands.
November 18, 2013
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Sobs broke through Jem Mella's conversation as he tried to tell what he knew was happening in the Leyte province after super typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines Nov. 8.
Mella grew up in the province before coming to Canada 20 years ago.
"I've not heard from all of them (friends and relatives), but most seem to have survived. My brother's daughter's newly-built house has been completely torn apart. That is the closest so far to a blood relation."
Mella assures, "They (his niece and her husband) want to help. But they can't help because they can't move. They are still thinking of their own survival, their priest, their friends. But they can't move."
What is blocking their passage? Debris, tons of debris. "Or the worst that I have heard - hundreds of dead bodies."
With communications down, initial figures are just that, initial - 10,000 dead, millions impacted by the 275-km gale force winds.
"Homes have been totally destroyed," says Mella. "No supplies, no water, nothing to eat."
A long pause. "As I speak right now I am crying. Last night I did that too. The first thing that we do is pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. "
These first moments are filled not only with emotion but how to get help to his homeland through a reputable charity.
As to what to do, Mella says simply, "It is beyond our community, beyond our family. If we ask people to send money to the government, they won't because of possible corruption."
For Efren Damo, the wait is agonizing. As of the afternoon of Nov. 11, he had not heard from his sister. "Right now all communication is destroyed. We don't have any connection to them yet. Right now we don't know. The only thing we can do is pray."
His sister is a religious, Sister Mary Matthew, a St. Paul Sister for 45 years.
CNS PHOTO | ROMEO RANOCO, REUTERS
Residents seek refuge inside a Catholic church converted into an evacuation centre Nov. 10 in Tacloban, Philippines.
"They have a St. Paul's College in the city of Iloilo and she is a director," says her brother. Iloilo was one of the cities hardest hit by typhoon Haiyan.
His voice fades, "But now, I don't know."
In the Philippines, international and local groups were poised to get aid to the worst-hit areas, but the challenges of getting help to communities growing desperate for food and water went beyond just making sure roads were clear.
Even the military cannot pass and go to different areas, said Jesuit Brother James Lee, head of the Church That Serves the Nation, the social justice arm of the Philippine Jesuit province.
"They still have difficulty with communications as well as managing the people there, because they're (Filipinos) really looking for food, and they're asking the trucks (for food) and limiting their access," Lee told Catholic News Service.
Lee said he had heard from other nongovernmental agencies that partner with his organization that hungry people were demanding food in return for letting the trucks pass.
Father Jim Corrigan of Edmonton's St. Theresa Parish says a special collection will be held in his parish sometime in the upcoming weeks.
Nationally, Development and Peace has called for an urgent response to the Philippines disaster.
DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE
"It is estimated that over 9.5 million people are in need of aid across nine provinces, and that 600,000 people have been forced from their homes. The extent of the devastation wrought by this unprecedented storm continues to be revealed," said the organization.
"This is a major humanitarian crisis and we foresee that the country will be recovering for a long time. We want to be there every step of the way in solidarity with those affected," said Michael Casey, executive director of Development and Peace.
The organization has already contributed $100,000 to kick off its drive for funds.
Donations made to Development and Peace for relief efforts until Dec. 9 are eligible for the matching funds from the Canadian government.
Donations can be made by telephone (1-888-664-3387), online at www.devp.org by sending a cheque to Development and Peace and indicating Philippines Typhoon to: Development and Peace , 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd. West., 3rd Floor, Montreal H3G 1T7.
In Edmonton, Archbishop Richard Smith will celebrate a Mass for those whose lives were lost in the typhoon at St. Theresa Church, 7508-29 Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.