Catastrophic typhoon leaves Philippines desperate and in need of global compassion

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TACLOBAN, Philippines — Emily Ortega was swept off her feet when the storm surge from Typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban, Philippines.

The typhoon's sustained winds, peaking at nearly 200 mph, drove waves 20 feet tall into the coastal city. Ortega clung to a post while storm debris hammered her. Hours later, the evacuation center in Tacloban where the pregnant 21-year-old found refuge was filled with cheers as she gave birth to a healthy baby girl — Bea Joy Sagales.

The news for most Filipinos in the typhoon's path, however, is far from jubilant. The Government of the Philippines estimates that at least 4 million people have been affected by the typhoon, and there are reports that in one area alone, Tacloban, 10,000 people have died. The number of fatalities is likely to rise as communications channels are restored and access improves to impacted areas.

"Typhoon Yolanda left the country, leaving behind widespread damage that will take days to assess," Gerlie Baltero of the Luzon Convention said in an email. "Many are in need of food, water and medicine."

Southern Baptists and their partners in the Philippines are among those at the leading edge of the relief effort following the Nov.8 typhoon.

A specialized disaster-relief team from the Southern Baptists will join others already in the storm zone to assist people with immediate survival needs, said Pat Melancon, managing director of disaster response and management for Baptist Global Response (BGR).

A group that will make detailed assessments and formulate a longer-term strategy for helping survivors rebuild their lives will follow the "rapid assistance" team.

Jim Richardson, a leader of the rapid assistance team has asked people to pray for them as they step into the chaos of the storm zone.

BGR has released an initial $15,000 in relief funds to humanitarian partners who are focusing their efforts on three areas: Tacloban, which is the hardest-hit area, and northern Cebu and Panay provinces, said Jeff Palmer, BGR's executive director. Churches in the Philippines and Filipino teams trained in disaster relief will be working alongside disaster relief workers in efforts focusing on immediate needs such as water, food and shelter.

World Vision's first relief flight loaded with critical emergency supplies was scheduled to arrive in Manila Monday, including 5,000 blankets and 3,000 tarpaulins (plastic sheets) that will be used to help survivors build temporary shelters.

"Every minute counts in this response," said Josaias Dela Cruz, World Vision's National Director in the Philippines. "With the death toll rising and the extent of the damage still not fully known, we are doing everything we can to scale up as quickly as possible and begin bringing relief and hope to our country."

"The greatest challenge for us is still clearing the roads, restoring power and water supplies for many of the displaced families who are experiencing such hardship," said Aaron Aspi, an Emergency Communications Officer with World Vision in Cebu, Philippines. "It's us against the clock as we try to provide them with the necessary aid that they need."

Samaritan's Purse also deployed a disaster response team to provide desperately needed relief to typhoon victims in the Philippines.

"We've seen the kind of devastation storms like this can bring to lives," said Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham. "We will do everything we can to provide for their needs. We'll be there not only to provide survivors with physical aid, but also to share God's love and bring hope to their communities."

Right now, the most urgent needs are water and sanitation, food, temporary shelter, child protection and psychosocial support. Staff care is also a priority as many staff have been personally affected by this disaster and have been managing back-to-back disasters in the midst of one of the country's busiest hurricane seasons.

The extent of the damage — a national state of calamity has been declared — begs for Christian compassion to be shown to more than 9 million people affected by the typhoon, Baltero said.

"For Christians, every disaster is a call to action; we are called to help those who are suffering when they need it," Baltero said. "This is one ministry we cannot turn our backs on."

Story compiled by Mark Kelly, BP News and Christian Examiner staff


Disaster Relief agencies providing assistance:

• World Vision's Philippines Disaster Response Fund, go to www.worldvision.org

• World Help, Typhoon Haiyan Crisis Response, go to www.worldhelp.net

• Baptist Global Response, go to www.gobgr.org

• International Mission Board's general relief fund, go to www.imb.org

• Mennonite Central Committee, Typhoon Haiyan relief, go to www.mcc.org

• Samaritan's Purse, Help Typhoon Victims, go to www.samaritanspurse.org

• Medical Teams, go to www.medicalteams.org

• Lutheran Disaster Response, go to www.elca.org