Quick response to Philippines typhoon
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MANILA, Philippines Filipino members responded quickly to the Philippines Area presidency's call to help victims of Typhoon Durian (local name "Reming") which devastated the Bicol region in the southeastern portion of the island of Luzon on November 30.
Immediately after the typhoon abated, a team was dispatched from the area office in Manila to assess the needs of Church members and the community, as well as damage to Church property.
As of Friday, Dec. 15, six members, whose names were unavailable, were confirmed to have died from the effects of the typhoon. All missionaries were safe and accounted for.
"Every home and school between Naga and Legaspi was almost totally destroyed," said Elder Orbie Davis, who is serving with his wife, Carole, in the Philippines Naga Mission. "What used to be rice fields are now covered in mud and water."
Left with practically nothing but the clothes on their backs, those hardest hit by the typhoon needed food, clothing, medicine, drinking water and temporary shelters. Those living in the Bicol region were barely recovering from the effects of Typhoon Milenyo, which hit the area last September.
Louie Costales, area welfare manager, and President Virgilio Flores, regional welfare chairman, purchased rice, noodles, canned goods and water from grocery stores in Naga City, the closest location to the hardest-hit areas. Trucks hired to deliver the goods to Legaspi, Ligao and Daraga were accompanied by Salvador Naag, regional welfare agent
Elder Dale Bunnell, area welfare service agent, and Elder Phillip Empey proceeded directly to Legaspi and Ligao to coordinate the relief effort on the ground. At the stake centers, priesthood leaders, members and missionaries were eagerly waiting to unload the goods for re-packing and delivery to families. Everyone worked tirelessly and only stopped after the last bags were loaded onto jeepneys, tricycles and motorcycles. A total of 500 bags of goods, each bag containing enough to sustain a family of four for three days, were distributed on that first day.
"All those who came to help re-pack the goods were smiling," said Elder Bunnell. "When I asked how many had completely or almost totally lost their homes, a third of the members raised their hands.
" It's almost unbelievable that even in the worst of times, Filipinos find a reason to be happy and compassionate to their fellowmen."
Elder Bunnell also related that they met several members who were already cleaning up the mud and debris in meetinghouses that were devastated by Durian.
In the midst of the chaos succeeding the disaster, Elder Julio Gaviola, Area Seventy assigned to the Naga Region, was pleased to find the priesthood leaders bishops, branch presidents, stake and district presidents up and about checking on the condition of the members, even if they themselves had also lost their own homes and most of their possessions.
Members from five stakes in Metro Manila, who also hunkered down for the typhoon, which mercifully veered south and did not cause much damage to the area, put together 5,000 hygiene kits on Monday morning following the typhoon. That same afternoon, the kits, kerosene lamps and drinking water were on their way to designated drop-off points. Later in the day, more food, water and rolls of tarp from Manila were making their way south.
Members from 19 stakes and districts in the Metro Manila area were asked by the Area Presidency to donate clothing and toys for children the weekend of Dec. 9-10.
"The response of the members is just amazing, considering that we only gave them 24 hours to bring in all these clothes and toys," said President Fidelito Cunanan of the Malolos Philippines Stake.
Relief Society sisters, the youth and even Primary children helped sort the clothes and wrap the toys in Christmas paper.
Asked about how she feels about helping her fellow saints, Sister Myra Balde from the Tabang Ward replied, "I hope that these simple gifts will somehow lessen their grief and bring a smile to their faces, especially this Christmas season."
Elder Gaviola, who is also the Church's distribution manager, supervised the collection of the donations at the Church warehouse in Quezon City and estimated that five tons of donated goods would make their way to Bicol by Dec. 16.
Pleased with the response from the members and how quickly aid was sent to the affected area through the priesthood line, Philippines Area President D. Rex Gerratt of the Seventy said, "The Lord has set the pattern for caring for the needy. I don't know of any other way that would work better."
He advises all those who would like to send material or financial aid to the victims of Typhoon Durian to "pay a generous fast offering instead. This way, the help will get administered in the Lord's way."
Elder Dale Bunnell, Elder Orbie Davis and Janryll Fernandez also contributed to this article.