Baptist & other Christian aid groups respond to Philippine typhoon

by Karen L. Willoughby |

Typhoon victims ask for food from passing motorists in Dolores, Samar, in central Philippines December 8, 2014. At least 21 people were reported dead, many of them drowned as flood waters rose in Borongan, the main town in Eastern Samar, where typhoon Hagupit made first landfall. More than a million people evacuated from the path of the powerful typhoon fearing a repeat of a super storm last year that left more than 7,000 dead or missing. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

PHILIPPINE ISLANDS (Christian Examiner) -- Even before Typhoon Hagupit made landfall last Saturday, Christian aid groups already were onsite prepared for the lashing meteorologists predicted to cross the myriad of Philippine Islands.

World Vision has distributed hygiene kits and water to 2,000 families in three of the nation's 24 government-sponsored evacuation camps.

Samaritan's Purse handed out 1,000 "essential supplies" kits including "jerry cans" (water containers) and water purification tablets, because "Clean water is an urgent need in the aftermath of a major storm," according to www.samaritanspurse.org.

Baptist Global Response has three "rapid assessment" teams already working in the Philippines to evaluate damage and prioritize the areas of the greatest need.

"The Lord has answered so many prayers," Ben Wolf said online Sunday. He and his wife Pam direct BGR work in the Asia Rim. "The typhoon weakened from super typhoon to typhoon status as it made landfall last night.

"It is not following the same path as last year's typhoon, which has given relief to those still recovering from last year's storm," Wolf described. "The storm went north of where it was projected to make landfall, and it has affected only about half of the Philippines instead of the whole country."

Mindful of last year's super typhoon that killed more than 7,300 people in the Philippines, 1.7 million people this year moved inland before the storm. The United Nations said it was one of the most massive peace-time evacuations in history.

Hagupit first hit the far eastern island of Samar with 130 mph winds, a category 3 typhoon, where most of a reported 27 deaths took place, but weakened as it moved steadily westward. In this island nation that endures perhaps 20 typhoons a year, Samar is routinely the first landfall.

"One of the lessons [from last year's Haiyan typhoon] was to evacuate before the storm hits, evacuate if you live near the sea, evacuate if you live near trees whose branches might fall on you," said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross in a message posted to the Red Cross website. "That lesson was learned."

Interior Minister Manuel Roxas said at least 200,000 people were believed to be in need of help on eastern Samar, and this number could rise as more comprehensive assessments are carried out in isolated communities.

"The emergency phase is over and the patient has started to stabilize," said Roxas in a nationally televised briefing. He has been stationed in Samar since before the storm struck.

"World Vision will focus on helping the most vulnerable families, who will likely stay in the [evacuation] camps for a week or so while they are fixing their houses again," Jennifer MacCann, World Vision's operations director for the typhoon response, offered in a released statement.

"The least we can do is be able to provide for their immediate needs to ease their suffering and help them one more time to recover," Andrew Rosauer, World Vision's response director said in the same press release.

Last year World Vision helped more than 1 million people out of the 14 million affected by Typhoon Haiyan. This year they expect to help 55,000, many still recovering from Haiyan.

"Any damage at all is on top of the massive destruction caused by Haiyan only 13 months ago," said Jim Barbee, Philippines country director for Samaritan's Purse. "Tens of thousands of people still live in tents, government-built bunkhouses and transitional housing sites, and many are struggling with lost livelihoods due to ongoing displacement," according to the Samaritan Purse website.

The villages asked for help specifically with medical and shelter needs and an emergency medical team was deployed, along with 1,000 hygiene kits, shelter materials, clean water supplies and other emergency aid.

Many families have had their lives and businesses completely upended, and a disaster response is needed, said Pat Melancon, Baptist Global Response's managing director of disaster response and training.

"We'll know more once a few hours of daylight reveal the results of the typhoon," Melancon said on Sunday via an electronically posted statement.

BGR's massive relief effort in the aftermath of last year's Typhoon Haiyan delivered emergency survival supplies to thousands of families in communities overlooked by major relief agencies. Dozens of small homes were built for families that lost their homes to the storm.