Reaching Out

What happens on the other side of the world can hit surprisingly close to home.

Typhoon Haiyan, at category-5 possibly the strongest typhoon ever to hit land, slammed into the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8.

For most Americans, the devastation was just one more item on the nightly news. Something tragic, but remote, happening to total strangers more than 8,000 miles away. An event closer to a scene out of Hollywood than anything they could relate to.

“We sit in our living rooms and watch movies apocalyptic movies,” Julia Roque, who has friends and family in the Philippines capital of Manila, said. “These people are living it. My mom said it looked like the end of the world. The sky just opened up. They actually thought the Philippines could be literally wiped out.”

While Roque said those she knows in the country are doing okay, as Manila was not in the direct path of the storm, not everyone was as fortunate.

Sara Peterson wants to know what has happened to her cousins. Unfortunately, her mother Elizabeth doesn’t have solid answers for her daughter on where her family is.

Elizabeth’s family members live in one of the areas hit hardest by the storm, Cebu Province, and are nearly all out of contact. The only one she has been able to communicate with is her brother. Beyond that, she has seen her parents name on a survivors list on television. It’s the only assurance she has of their status.

Roque has been in contact with the Petersons in an effort to help provide aid to the family, who lived in the area until last year. Elizabeth worked at Blair in Warren.

“She (Sara) keeps asking her mother where her cousins are and she doesn’t know,” Roque said, noting Sara’s urgings prompted a trip to visit family in the Philippines not long ago. “It’s hard for Elizabeth to go day-to-day without knowing what happened to her family.”

Roque noted it’s hard to imagine the situation in the aftermath of the storm.

“You have to realize, it’s still a developing country,” she noted. “Relief is slow. In Japan, two days after a disaster, they’re organized. There, six days later there was still no relief efforts in hard to reach areas.”

Roque painted a picture of the situation on the ground based on her communications with Elizabeth, whose brother relayed some information, and those she knows personally in the Philippines.

“Cebu was wiped out,” Roque said of the area where homes are commonly built with bamboo, simple woven walls and tin roofs and families often sleep on the floor of a single room. “When the typhoon went in, they were unprotected. The brother said they had to tie themselves down when the storm hit. the area is rank with human bodies. The prison was busted open and people are fighting for food. Crime and Looting are rampant. It’s real. You see it on the news, but it’s really much worse. It’s survival of the fittest.”

Roque is appealing to the generosity of the Warren area to help out someone who, until just a year ago, was one of their neighbors.

“Immediate relief is fine, but what do you do afterwards?” she asked. “They’ll need a new dwelling and a boat for fishing. If we can just focus on one family and get them back on their feet. If we can do this one family at a time, we can start the recovery, slowly, but at least we know we’re helping that one family.”

Roque is also in communications with friends in the Philippines involved in the immediate relief effort and hopes to garner donations for both.

“The majority of the money will be remitted directly to her (Peterson’s) family in the Philippines,” she stressed. “I’m communicating with one of my friends in the Philippines for immediate relief, so some of the donations are for that.”

Roque also hopes other area individuals with family impacted by the storm will come forward.

“If there are Filipinos here in Warren who might have been effected come forward,” she said. “Maybe we could split up funds to provide relief.”

Roque can be contacted at the Warren-Forest Economic Opportunities Council Faith Inn at 1209 Pennsylvania Ave., by phone at 814-726-2400 ext. 3301 or by e-mail at roque@wfcaa.org.

“I hope people will give just a tiny amount of what they have every day,” Roque said.