Relief Efforts Continue in Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan
Contributed By By Jason Swensen and Sarah Weaver
More than 100,000 Latter-day Saints in the Philippines have been left reeling from a pair of natural disasters that have devastated major sections of their populous island nation.
First, on October 15, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake rattled the island of Bohol, claiming some 200 lives and destroying or severely damaging the homes of dozens of members.
That catastrophe, sadly, would precede a far more deadly and destructive act of nature.
On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan struck the eastern Philippines, killing thousands and displacing tens of thousands more. Hit especially hard was the city of Tacloban on Leyte Island, where driving rain and winds topping 200 mph turned a community of 220,000 people into a watery wasteland.
The Associated Press reported that Haiyan reduced Tacloban to a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars, and trees. Meanwhile, hungry residents quickly stripped area malls and shops of food and water.
The Church is prolific across the Philippine Islands, with more than 660,000 members. Many Latter-day Saints are numbered among Haiyan's victims. At press time, it was still unknown if members were among those killed or injured in what is being called one of the strongest storms in recorded history. Church officials were also working to collect information on damage to member homes and meetinghouses.
More than 10,000 members and 4,000 others sought refuge in some 200 LDS meetinghouses, according to a Church welfare report.
All missionaries across the country are safe and accounted for. The storm all but wiped out communication in the greater Tacloban region. It took several days for the Philippines Area office to make contact with all the missionaries in the Philippines Tacloban Mission.
Missionaries across the affected region were given advanced warning of the encroaching typhoon, allowing them to move to secure areas, including many Church buildings. Prior to the storm, each missionary had also been provided a 72-hour emergency kit filled with food and other provisions.
After accounting for all missionaries serving in the disaster zone in the Philippines, local leaders have turned their focus to assessing the needs of the members in the country, said Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy and President of the Church’s Philippines Area.
“All Internet, all power, all cell phone was down and, at this very moment, is still down,” he told the Church News Wednesday morning, Philippines time. “There is no communication coming out of that area. We still have extreme difficultly in getting anything in that area.”
He said after the storm local leaders immediately contacted the mission presidents. Four missions were badly affected—the Tacloban, Cebu East, Bacolod, and Iloilo missions. Because of problems communicating, the leaders sent someone to find the missionaries, who were all accounted for by Monday, November 11. Elder Nielson said miracle after miracle happened as Church leaders worked to locate and evacuate the missionaries, who had all arrived in Manila by Thursday, November 14.
“It was a horrific storm,” he said. “These missionaries have seen terrible, terrible things.” The missionaries have been treated by a medical doctor and have had a mental health adviser evaluate their emotional needs. Church leaders are now turning their focus to the Latter-day Saints in the disaster zone who are still in Tacloban and have “no water, no place to stay, no power, no utilities.”
“We are very concerned about them,” Elder Nielson said, noting that they have not been evacuated. “It is very difficult.”
Limited transportation and communication have undermined relief efforts. Debris and downed power lines blocked roads. Water and power systems were destroyed or severely damaged.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the Church provided food, water, shelter, and other supplies to displaced families. Other Church-organized relief efforts were under way to offer additional support to affected members and their neighbors. In addition, the Church was coordinating relief efforts with government and other humanitarian organizations.
Delivering relief to the Philippines is expected to be a massive effort involving dozens of nations and private organizations such as the Church. On November 12, the United Nations appealed for more than $300 million to help victims. The international organization estimated that Typhoon Haiyan had displaced 660,000 people.
Bruce Muir, director of Church Emergency Response, said Church leaders are still assessing needs. In coming days, local leaders will buy supplies in Manila, Philippines, or other Asian countries and ship them into the disaster zone. “We will do whatever we need to do,” he said, and added that some 116,000 members from at least 42 stakes and districts have been impacted by the disaster. “We know that the place is devastated,” he said, noting that everyone is working hard to evaluate the status and needs of members and others. “There are still a lot of question marks. Transportation is difficult. Communication is down.”
News of the typhoon prompted members worldwide to pray for their fellow members, missionaries, and all the people of the Philippines. Many in the Church have ties to the islands.