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Watching, and waiting

Disaster in the Philippines: In the wake of typhoon, families in the Monadnock region reaching out to those overseas, but say there’s a feeling of helplessness

  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

    Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

    Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

    Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

    Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

    Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.

  • The Antrim Marketplace has a donation box out on the counter to support relief efforts in the Philippines for those who have been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan.

    The Antrim Marketplace has a donation box out on the counter to support relief efforts in the Philippines for those who have been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan.

  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.
  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.
  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.
  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.
  • Sylvia Fox of Dublin pages through a photo book her family had made after a trip to the Philippines to visit her family there. Included are photos of her father and brother, who have been confirmed to be safe after a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines on Friday.
  • The Antrim Marketplace has a donation box out on the counter to support relief efforts in the Philippines for those who have been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan.

Most of the world was watching from afar when super Typhoon Haiyan — known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda — descended upon the Philippines on Friday, devastating the eastern islands and killing thousands of people, especially in the area of Leyte Island and the city of Tacloban. For some Monadnock region residents watching the news, though, the disaster hit closer to home.

Sylvia Fox, who runs Friendly Farm in Dublin with her husband, Bruce Fox, knew her family in the Philippines was right in the path of the oncoming storm. Her father and brother live in Cebu, only about 100 kilometers from Tacloban, on the island of Leyte, the city that was hit hardest by the typhoon. When she saw the reports of the approaching storm, she got on the phone and began attempting to contact the family, to warn them to evacuate. Her father, she said, has a strong, concrete house, and she figured he would be safe there. But not all members of the family were so well protected, she said.

Her aunt, who is elderly, lives in a small house made of wood and bamboo. A cousin, Analisa Davidson, who lives in Kentucky but was on a long-term visit to the Philippines, was living in Delug, which is also on the island of Leyte. And though communication is starting to resume with the affected area, and Fox has managed to contact her father and brother and is assured of their safety, her aunt and cousin remain unaccounted for.

“It’s really hard. You worry. You want to make sure nothing happens to them, but what’s frustrating is that there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Fox in a phone interview Tuesday. “The only thing you can do is worry and worry and worry about it.”

Lina Hervas of Harrisville is also still waiting for news of some of her family members. Like Fox, she’s managed to contact many of them who were located outside the storm’s path, although it took several days to get a hold of all of them. But there has been no news about one of her nephews, still, she said.

The fact that Tacloban was so strongly affected was a big blow to Hervas, she said, because she often travels through that area while in the Philippines. When initial death estimates were reported to be up to 10,000 people, Hervas said that was a statistic that sent her reeling. “I could comprehend if a family member died, but it’s not easy for me to take and understand 10,000,” she said.

Hervas has been in disaster zones before; she was doing volunteer work in Indonesia in 2000 when a deadly earthquake hit. “I saw death, and I was able to stand firm,” she said. “But when it’s your own country affected, and you’re too far away to help, that’s what really brings the guilt.”

The Filipino government is now estimating the death toll as far less than first estimated, but it may be as high as 2,500. The official death toll is currently at 2,275, according to published reports, and thousands more are injured or missing. Typhoon Haiyan is the second deadliest typhoon recorded in the Philippines.

Dan Lechucza, a grocer at the Antrim Marketplace, is also originally from the Philippines. In an interview at the Marketplace on Wednesday, he said he wasn’t at all surprised when he heard a typhoon was headed for the east coast of the Philippines. “We’re used to that area being battered,” he said. “They can get up to 30 typhoons a year, some pretty bad, others not so much. But then they said it was the strongest to ever land in the Philippines. And then, they said it may be among the strongest in the world. That’s when I said, ‘We’re in trouble.’”

Many of the people killed in the worst affected areas probably stayed to protect their homes and properties, said Lechucza — perhaps taking the same attitude he had towards the typhoon initially. “Because of the history of storms in that area, they have safety measures in place. They underestimated the storm,” he said.

Lechucza’s family live on the islands farther west and thus were protected from the typhoon, he said. Still, it was a tense few days waiting for communications to come back on line to hear from family members. Luckily, he has now accounted for his relatives, who are all fine, said Lechucza.

Dealing with grief

When people ask her about the about the typhoon, Hervas said, she often doesn’t know what to say. She can sometimes do nothing more than stay quiet, and maybe give a smile.

The smile isn’t because she doesn’t care, Hervas explained. It’s an attitude the Filipino people carry. “When we smile and laugh, there’s something that comes from inside us and changes our attitude and manner,” she said. “When you smile and laugh, in a way, it’s medicine. And since the country is poor, sometimes it’s the only medicine you have. Smiling doesn’t mean we don’t care. It brings us healing. We smile at each other, and hug each other.”

It’s also another way to reach out, she added.

Lechucza said that in its own way, the support from his friends in New Hampshire have been a big part of his personal support, and the offers to give aid have been very touching, he said. In the Philippines, there’s a word for it “Bayanihan,” which means a country spirit, he said.

“When disaster strikes, we think and act collectively to try to help each other,” he said.

In their own attempt to assist, Lechucza said that the Antrim Marketplace has begun collecting money to send to the relief efforts in the Philippines.

Giving aid

One of the most frustrating things, those who have connections to the Philippines say, is watching from afar, knowing there isn’t much they can do to help, but hope.

“On television, I see a 13-year-old, looking for his family, saying ‘Where is my mother and father and sister and brother?’ I wonder, what is going to happen to this child. For now, all we can do is pray and pray and pray and pray. That’s our best, first and last resort,” said Hervas.

Lechucza has seen a lot of the Antrim Marketplace’s customers coming in and showing support. Sometimes, it’s just as small as asking him and his daughter, who also works at the Marketplace, if their family is safe. When two days after the storm Lechucza still hadn’t managed to hear from all of his family members, he even received a call from a concerned customer asking for an update on his family.

It may only be a small token, said Lechucza, but the Antrim Marketplace wanted to send what aid they could to the Philippines. So they set out a jar asking for donations, which will be sent to Adventist Development and Relief Agency for relief efforts in the Philippines. He’s also directing those who want to know how they can help to the agency’s website, www.adra.org, where they can donate directly, or give to American Red Cross efforts.

“My Filipino friends are appealing for help,” said Lechucza. “We have started in this small, little way.”

Fox said she, too, has been looking for ways to help, but has been at a loss as to how to do so.

Aid efforts are already underway in the Philippines, hampered by communications and transportation shutdowns. Recently, two airports, which had been shut down in the wake of the typhoon, resumed operations, easing relief efforts. President Barack Obama has been in communications with President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines.

“Over the weekend, the President directed the administration to mount a swift and coordinated response to save lives and provide assistance to alleviate the suffering of so many Filipinos,” in a press release issued by the White House Press Office on Tuesday. “President Obama discussed with President Aquino the need for a speedy assessment of what further American resources would be most helpful to assist in the Philippine recovery effort. In the days ahead, the United States will continue to work with the Philippines to deliver whatever help we can, as quickly as possible.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on twitter @AshleySaari.

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