Monday, November 18, 2013

News from the Philippines

Friends of mine from Manila - he works in a seminary - wrote today of the devastation of his adopted country, and offers a way to help:

By now I'm sure you've all heard about Typhoon Haiyan, the storm that blasted its way through the central Philippines during the weekend of November 9-10. Haiyan made its initial landfall on the east coasts of Leyte and Samar, islands whose names will be familiar if you've read accounts of World War 2 in the Pacific. US troops' first landings in the Philippines, in October 1944, were on the beaches of Leyte, and that same month the central phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the last major clash between the US and Japanese fleets, was the Battle off Samer, which pitted Japanese battleships against US escort carriers and destroyer escorts. Tacloban, Leyte's provincial capital, was even the provisional capital of the Philippines until the liberation of Manila the following spring.

Today Leyte and Samar look as though another war had just been fought on their beaches and in their streets and fields. Fishing boats and freighters have been beached, entire forests of trees flattened, their trunks snapped like matchsticks. The shocking photos of downtown Tacloban remind me of images of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb; in Tacloban as in Hiroshima, no more than a handful of structures are still standing. In the run-up to the storm, almost a million people were evacuated to emergency shelters with roofs designed to withstand 100-mph winds. Unfortunately, Haiyan was packing 200-mph winds, with gusts approaching 300 mph. As a result, many of those shelters lost their roofs and became traps for their occupants, quite a few of whom drowned.

In a typical year about 20 tropical storms and typhoons enter Philippine waters, with eight or nine of those making landfall, the last of them sometime in October. This year, obviously, things have been very different. Haiyan was the 24th named storm to come our way, and already it has been followed by two more. With most of these storms the real damage is done by landslides triggered by torrential rainfall on slopes that illegal logging has often left denuded of trees and vegetation. Not so with Haiyan, whose ground speed of 25 mph, twice the speed of most storms, meant that it didn't linger long enough to deposit much rain in any one spot. What made Haiyan so deadly for coastal communities like Tacloban was the storm surge generated by its high winds. The water's height reached 10 feet, 15 feet, even 30 feet in some places, and it swept inland with bulldozer force. It might as well have been a tsunami.

The Philippine government had plenty of warning that Haiyan was on the way, and it made preparations that would have been appropriate for an ordinary typhoon. But there was nothing ordinary about Haiyan. Transportation and communication infrastructure that's barely adequate at the best of times proved completely inadequate to the challenge. Airports that might have served as staging grounds for relief workers were put out of commission by high winds that swept away their control towers. Roads that might have carried emergency provisions in and evacuees out were blocked by mountains of debris and lined with the bodies of the dead. How many have died? It will probably be a long time before the government issues a complete tally, but current estimates start at 4,000. Parents have lost their children, children have been orphaned, and entire families have been wiped out. Twenty-five thousand are missing. Two million are homeless.

What's next? Rescue and emergency relief operations will continue for some time, I'm sure. In the central Philippines, along with larger islands like Leyte and Samar, there are dozens of smaller islands with significant populations, and many of those have been out of touch since the storm hit. Eventually, of course, communities will begin to rebuild -- though I'm not sure how one does that with a community like Tacloban, which had a population of more than 200,000 and has lost 95 percent of its structures. Filipinos are known for their indomitable spirit, and their country is often described as "the land of smiles," but this week I've seen a lot of tears. They'll need a great deal of help to get back on their feet. Some of that help is coming from the governments of other nations. The US has sent an aircraft carrier, Marines, and hundreds of tons of supplies, among other things. The British have sent an aircraft carrier with more supplies and a pledge of $75 million in emergency aid. The European Union has pledged more than $25 million in aid. Even the government of China has offered a pledge, though initially theirs was so small that the Chinese press made a joke of it.

But much of the help is coming from non-governmental organizations. The Philippine Red Cross has deployed thousands of volunteers to assist with search and rescue. The American Red Cross is sending its own emergency response teams as well as millions of dollars' worth of vital equipment. World Vision is sending food, blankets, emergency shelters, water purification kits, and an arsenal of relief items. Other organizations are here as well. For example, our old friend Beth Allen, a longtime staffer with Food for the Hungry, has flown in to work with FH's Philippine team -- we're hoping to get together with her for dinner one night this week. Our own mission agency, Action International Ministries, is working directly with partner churches in the central Philippines. Of course, all of this takes money. None of these NGOs can continue their ministry without your generous financial support. Several of you have asked how you can contribute to the post-typhoon relief effort, so here are links to web pages that will allow you to make a secure donation for that purpose:

Action International Ministries:
https://www.gifttool.com/donations/Donate?ID=114&VER=1&LNG=EN&PID=2062&T=N&CC=USD,CAD

Food for the Hungry:
http://fh.org/storm

World Vision:
http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwv2ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?funnel=dn&item=2639566&go=item%C2%A7=10339&

American Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/donate/index.jsp?donateStep=2&itemId=prod4650031

Above all, please keep the Philippines in your prayers. --George Harper

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