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BY Sarah Reinhard
The sun was shining on a rainbow of fall colors as I opened my email to an alert about Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. From the puddle of sunshine in my kitchen, I learned about the devastation in a country already reeling from two recent disasters.
According to Catholic Relief Services’ Country Representative Joe Curry,
With Typhoon Haiyan there were torrential rains and heavy winds, but it was manageable. The real concern in Bohol is for the displaced families without homes, about 350,000 people from the earthquake. Families had to evacuate to safer locations and sometimes take refuge in damaged buildings.
The areas that were hit are largely rural. In rural areas, anywhere from 30-40% of the population would be very poor, including farmers and fishermen, earning around $2-3 per day. The poorest are the people who are most affected by disasters like this. They live in the most fragile houses that are susceptible to damage.
Reuters calls it “the strongest typhoon in the world this year.” In addition, they report:
Officials warned that more than 12 million people were at risk, including residents of Cebu City, which has a population of about 2.5 million, and areas still reeling from a deadly 2011 storm and a 7.2-magnitude quake last month.
“The super typhoon likely made landfall with winds near 195 mph. This makes Haiyan the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at U.S.-based Weather Underground.
The verbs are a panoply of color and action. But mostly, they make me think of my own family and the devastation and impact that Hurricane Katrina had.
At the time, we had family and friends living in New Orleans. We watched and listened, utterly helpless and unable to physically do more than pray, as the winds and water tore through the barriers. I quit watching updates at one time, knowing our family was safe in a hotel, and just prayed.
The details are grim and heart-wrenching:
Haiyan was on a westward track when it raced into Samar traveling at 41 kph (25 mph), which meant the worst was over quickly. But the damage was severe. “About 90% of the infrastructure and establishments were heavily damaged,” Gwendolyn Pang, the secretary general of the Philippine National Red Cross, told CNN.
By early Saturday, the speed had dropped slightly, to 37 kph (23 mph).
About 25 areas in the Philippines were hit, Pang said, adding that assessment teams were prepared to enter the stricken areas as soon as conditions allowed.
But they cannot do it alone, she said: “We will be definitely needing more support for this one.”
She said floodwater was as high as 10 feet in some areas.
These aren’t people who have another part of the country to escape to — at one point, “Haiyan was so large in diameter that…its clouds were affecting two-thirds of the country, which stretches more than 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles)” [source]. Many of the residents are still recovering from the massive earthquake that hit in mid-October, just over three weeks ago. They don’t have a good communication system in place right now and that makes support even more difficult:
National Telecommunications Commission Director Edgardo Cabarios told the council three of the country's major cell service providers were dealing with poor to nonexistent reception and cell towers that were not communicating with each other properly.
Cabarios said even regional government officials were having a hard time getting in touch with their national counterparts in Manila.
“They are coordinating with private civic radio groups in order to communicate with us here about Typhoon Yolanda (the local name of the storm),” said Cabarios.
As I look at the pictures of Typhoon Haiyan, my heart goes out to these people. And I think that’s one of the responses that leads me to prayer in the most sincere way. It’s a more intimate response, in many ways, and though we can, from across the world, donate to charities and relief organizations, putting a face to our prayers and a heart behind our words changes something important…and often, that change is what happens within me.