Expat Filipinos desperately seek word from loved ones after typhoon strikes

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 11, 2013 5:35 AM
Expat Filipinos desperately seek word from loved ones after typhoon strikes

By Jonathan Kaminsky and James Pomfret

(Reuters) - Filipinos from the United States to Asia sought word from loved ones in their homeland and prayed for missing and displaced family after a super typhoon swept through the central Philippines killing an estimated 10,000 people.

In Hong Kong, where some 160,000 Filipinos work, most as domestic helpers, there a sense of helplessness amongst the many thousands from the worst-hit Visayas archipelago amid a widespread communications blackout.

"My son and my mum are there and I don't have any news about them. There is no Internet connection and no telephone connection, it's all broken," said Flynn Blancaber, a 30-year-old domestic helper whose home is close to a beach on Panay island in the western Visayas.

"I just don't know what is happening there."

Luz Viminda Guzman spent a frantic weekend calling and texting before finally getting through to her 33-year-old son from the town of Albuera on the west coast of hard-hit Leyte island, for a one-minute call before the line cut.

"I really cried knowing they're okay," said Guzman, a 55-year-old domestic helper, her voice choking with emotion.

"When he said 'we have no more house', I said 'never mind. What's important is you're safe. If we don't have a house we can start again, and what's important is I can hear your voice and my grandsons are okay'", Guzman said, her family now living from hand to mouth in a tent beside their gutted home.

Filipino groups in Hong Kong, the vast majority Roman Catholics, have been appealing for cash donations and are planning counseling sessions and prayer vigils for those with family impacted by Typhoon Haiyan.

In the San Francisco suburb of Pinole, about 150 Filipino parishioners prayed during mass at Saint Joseph Catholic Church for relatives and friends unaccounted for from the super typhoon, which left more than 600,000 people homeless.

In the New York City borough of Queens, televisions in restaurants, bakeries and other shops along a 15-block thoroughfare dubbed Little Manila were tuned to news from the Philippines, with residents commiserating over frantic efforts to get in touch with missing loved ones.

Asuncion Hipe, a nursing assistant, said she had been unable to reach her three sisters and a nephew in remote Samar province, where the storm made its initial landfall and authorities said at least 300 people were dead.

"I keep on calling them and nobody answers me. It doesn't go through; it says 'out of coverage area,'" she said. "I don't care about the property. I just want them to be alive."

Even for many of those who had been able to reach family in their homeland, emotions ran high.

Angelina Flores, who was sending money to family in Cebu province, which was directly in the storm's path, said her uncle and other family were without water and power and in desperate need of supplies.

"My house, my brother's house, is gone," she said.

In Los Angeles, about 50 people attended services and a lunch on Sunday at the Filipino Christian Church that raised $200 for storm victims.

"Trees are falling down from the backyard on to the house," said Marcelle Gossett, who had tears in her eyes and placed her hands together in prayer as she recounted the plight of her two sons, their wives, and her 14 grandchildren, all of whom live in Cebu City. "I told them to go to the rescue, but they're stuck and can't leave the house."

In Singapore, another major overseas hub for Filipinos with an estimated population of around 250,000, grassroots groups appealed for aid.

"Everyone here is affected," said Angel Luciano, the Chaplain for Filipino Migrants in Singapore. "One way or the other we all have relatives, friends, or connections to those who were hit."

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in New York, Dana Feldman in Los Angeles, Laila Kearney in San Francisco, James Pomfret in Hong Kong and Rachel Armstrong in Singapore; Editing by Nick Macfie)