Filipino disaster donations needed

The Filipino community in the Cayman Islands is taking up collections to raise money for those affected by the devastating typhoon and flooding that hit last weekend and has claimed an ever-growing death toll nearing 1,000 people in an area of the Philippines declared a state of national calamity.

Arturo Ursua, an engineer living in Grand Cayman and the unofficial honorary consul to the Philippines from the Cayman Islands, said members from various church congregations have already taken up collections to send to authorities 
to help facilitate relief 
efforts. Mr. Ursua said informal efforts by members of a few churches in Grand Cayman, including the Catholic Church at St. Ignatius – which features a large Filipino membership – have already borne fruit and a first shipment of money was sent Monday to disaster relief organisers back home. “In terms of materials, it would be difficult to send,” Mr. Ursua said. “At this time, this is the best way we know how to help.”

He said he had been told of Filipinos residing in the Cayman Islands who have family members living in the hardest hit areas on the Philippine island of Mindanao. However, Mr. Ursua was unable to immediately recall names and the Caymanian Compass was unable to track down potential victims by press time Tuesday.

Mr. Ursua said people looking to help may reach out to him in his capacity as honorary consul at 925-8279 or through St. Ignatius at 949-6797.

On Friday, late-season Tropical Storm Washi blew through the mountainous region of the island of Mindanao – an area of the archipelago nation unaccustomed to major storms – crippling the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro before finally clearing through on Sunday.

Most of the dead were women and children who drowned Friday night while asleep when flash floods tore through both Iligan, an industrial centre of about 330,000 people located 485 miles southeast on Manila, and nearby Cagayan de Oro. Both areas were filled with scenes of destruction and desperation as the storm turned those worst hit coastal cities into muddy wastelands filled with overturned cars and broken trees.

The latest count listed the dead at more than 950 and is expected to rise as additional bodies are recovered from the sea and mud in those flood-stricken cities, according to the Philippines’ Office of Civil Defence. Many isolated villages still have not been reached by over-stretched disaster response personnel.

Mr. Ursua said he has not yet been in touch with government officials in the Philippines. He said he has been told of difficulties getting through by telephone from Filipinos living in the Cayman Islands with family members in the affected areas.

He said he would be making contact with authorities at the Philippines Embassy in Washington, DC, during the coming days. “I will touch base with them and see what I can do,” he said. “When I think back to the flooding incident from about a year ago, we touched base with the Red Cross back home and sent them money.”

With more than 2,500 people on work permits, government contracts are awaiting decisions on permanent residence applications in the Cayman Islands. Filipinos represent the second largest group of foreign nationals living in the British Overseas Territory, behind only Jamaicans, according to the Cayman Islands Department of Immigration.

Benito Ramos, head of the Philippines’ Office of Civil Defence, said Tuesday he expected the death toll to continue to rise and said the government count was slower because authorities try to identify casualties by verifying them with relatives.

Ramos attributed to the high casualties “partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms” despite warnings issued by officials that one was approaching.

In just 12 hours, Tropical Storm Washi dumped more than a month of average rain on Mindanao.

A Briton was the first foreigner reported dead, according to the British Embassy in Manila. Officials did not provide details. In all, about 143,000 people were affected in 13 southern and central provinces, including 45,000 who fled to evacuation centres, according to the Office of Civil Defence. Roughly 7,000 homes were swept away, destroyed or damaged.

The disaster-prone Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms each year. But the severity of this weekend’s devastation shocked many, coming close to Christmas – the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s most-awaited time for family reunions.

“Actually I was surprised when I heard the news about it,” Mr. Ursua said. “Especially at this late in the typhoon season back home. It seems to me this is the first time I’ve heard about a typhoon hitting the Mindanao area. This is something I’ve never heard of before.”

On Tuesday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III declared a state of national calamity as the government feverishly sought supplies, including hundreds of coffins as well as high protein biscuits, water tanks, blankets, tarpaulins and tents for some 75,000 people. Water shortages were still reported throughout the two heavily affected cities.

Mr. Aquino said there would be an assessment of why there were so many victims, if there had been ample warning and, if so, why people in the path of the storm had not been moved to safety.

“I do not accept that everything had been done,” the president said. “I know we can do more. We must determine what really happened … We knew that (storm) was coming. There should have been efforts to avoid the destruction.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Arturo Ursua said people looking to help may reach out to him in his capacity as honorary consul at 925-8279 or through St. Ignatius at 949-6797.

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