Weather Updates

Filipinos in Chicago pray for Typhoon Haiyan victims

Updated: December 12, 2013 12:35PM

When she heard of the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines, one word flashed into the mind of Janina Marie Palacios: Mom.

“My first instinct was to call my mom right away,” said Palacios, 32, Sunday night outside Transfiguration of Our Lord Catholic Church in the Ravenswood neighborhood, where members of Chicago’s Filipino community, bearing heavy hearts and worried minds, gathered to pray for victims.

“She was fine, although the winds were strong in that area,” Palacios said of her mother, who lives hundreds of miles north of the center of the country, which bore the brunt of the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan. “Everyone was safe.”

Palacios’ husband, Romano Tuazon, a funeral director, is weighing whether or not he will be able to travel to the Philippines to help tend to more than 10,000 estimated to have died in storm. The bodies will decompose quickly in the heat, and “I could help with the embalming,” said Tuazon, 31.

The Rev. John Era said mass and prayed for the victims. Era has worked as a missionary in areas that were flattened by winds that were estimated at 160 mph. He is waiting anxiously to hear from friends there.

“I am waiting for news whether they are OK or not. . . . I think the lines of communications are dead,” Era said.

When contacted Sunday afternoon, Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, who lives in the Chicago area and is the Philippines’ ranking diplomat in the Midwest, said the power of storm awed a nation that is frequently pummeled by typhoons.

“I talked with people who have lived 60 years in the Philippines and they say this is the worst,” Herrera-Lim said. “For a people accustomed to typhoons and their aftermath, to say this is the strongest they’ve seen — it speaks a lot.”

“The greatest source of anxiety is the inability to call [family] or make connection because there are power outages in the areas hardest hit,” he said. “They are not even able to ascertain how their families are doing — whether they are alive or not.”

Chicago resident Candy Emnas moved to the U.S. in the early ’90s. Her brother is a government official in Leyte, an island in the central Philippines region that was hit hardest.

She said he is safe, but many others are still having difficulty reaching family. Filipino expatriates around the world have taken to social-networking sites to share information.

But many still haven’t found answers to simple questions because infrastructure providing power, Internet and phone service was decimated, she said.

An Internet terminal was set up Saturday afternoon in the city hall in the providence’s capitol city of Tacloban, she said. And Herrera-Lim, the consul general, said the government is working on setting up temporary cell towers to restore phone service. But those efforts are still in the works, leaving many still waiting to hear from relatives.

“They’re trying to desperately hear from their family, but because of the communication blackout, there is no information,” said Emnas, who is part of the Cathedral Filipino Network based out of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.

Meanwhile conditions on the ground are getting worse.

“It’s getting worse as far as people’s behavior goes — it’s chaotic, people are hungry. They are still trying to transport food in,” she said. “There are some people who just haven’t eaten. People are really getting so desperate.”

Fund-raisers and relief efforts are underway among members of Chicago’s Filipino community, but most are just beginning.

In the meantime, she suggested that people can donate money to the Red Cross.

“What they need immediately is food, water and medicine,” Emnas said. “They are really running out of supplies.”

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