Cayman’s Filipino community is counting the cost of Typhoon Haiyan
As Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines, leaving thousands dead and cutting communications to large parts of the country, Jimmy Lagunzad endured a heart-wrenching wait.
From his home in George Town, Grand Cayman, there was little the security guard could do to help his family in Tacloban – the city at the center of the devastation.
He had spoken to his wife and children via Skype the day before the typhoon hit, told them he loved them, advised them to stay in their home, to wait out the storm and to pray.
It was three sleepless nights before he heard from them again. The roof had been ripped off the house, the walls had fallen in but the family – his wife Richel, 11-year-old daughter Estelle-Felicity and 1-year-old son Ethan-Finnigan were OK.
“We have lost everything, but the priority was the safety of my wife and the kids,” he said.
With dead bodies piling up in the streets of Tacloban and fears of looting rife, Mr. Lagunzad’s family has left the city to stay with his wife’s parents in a neighboring town.
“My heart was really broken when I saw the bodies in the streets. You can’t recognize the city,” he said.
Even the astrodome, thought to be the safest point in Tacloban and designated as an emergency shelter, was damaged in the storm.
Mr. Lagunzad, one of more than 2,500 Filipinos living and working in the Cayman Islands, says his main concern now is for his parents in the outlying town of MacArthur, also in the Leyte province, worst hit by the storm. He has heard from relatives that they are alive, but he has not been able to speak to them as yet. And he is concerned about news reports that aid is not yet getting through. The BBC reported on Tuesday that damage to transport links and bad weather were hindering distribution of supplies leaving many without badly needed food, water and shelter.
“At the moment, the only thing I can do is send money. I would like to be there to share their pain and agony and to help in whatever way I can,” added Mr. Lagunzad.
Haiyan – named Yolanda by Philippine authorities – struck the coastal provinces of Leyte and Samar on Friday. Packing sustained winds of 147 mph and waves as high as 45 feet, it was one of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall. The latest reports from authorities in the Philippines put the likely death toll around 2,500, scaled down from initial estimates of up to 10,000. The need for food, water and medical supplies is acute with the United Nations launching a $301 million aid appeal.
The Filipino community in the Cayman Islands has mobilized to raise funds and facilitate donations to the international relief effort.
Arturo Ursua, the honorary consul for the Philippines in the Cayman Islands, is collecting donations personally to pass on through the Arch Diocese of Palo, which is coordinating relief efforts in Leyte.
“At the present time, I believe that donating in cash is the most practical and expedient way to help the affected areas,” he said on Tuesday. Anyone who wants to help can call him on 925-8279.
The Red Cross is also helping coordinate donations and can be contacted on 949-6785. The JN Money Transfer service, which facilitates cash transfers, is already offering a 50 percent discount on fees for remittances to the Philippines to help with relief efforts following the earthquake that hit the country in October.
Marie Barigmasay, who works at Eduardo’s Restaurant on Seven Mile Beach, is organizing a fundraising auction at the venue on Thursday, Nov. 21. Anyone who can help with prizes or funds for the auction can call Ms Barigmasay on 939-6846.
She is from Manila, but she said she had friends affected by the typhoon.
“My friend is here in Cayman right now, but she looked up her house on the Internet and she saw it is gone,” she said.
For Rex Alferez, a golf course maintenance worker in Grand Cayman, the tragedy hit closer to home. He is still waiting to hear from his girlfriend Arlene Tapiroso in Tacloban. The couple met on the website iMingle and have been dating online for two years.
“She is missing and I haven’t heard from her. I don’t know how I can get information if she is OK. We were going to plan to be married soon, but I don’t know what is happening. I really hope she is OK,” he said.
The powerful storm downed communication lines in Tacloban City making it nearly impossible for people to find out if their loved ones are among the survivors.
Federico Abueva, a maintenance worker at Grand Pavilion, has been in contact with his mother and sister, who live in Javier, 70 kilometers from Tacloban – close enough to feel the impact.
“I talked to my sister and she told me the roof has blown off. Almost all of the homes in the town, the roof has been blown off.”
Mr. Abuevo, who suffered through Hurricane Ivan in Grand Cayman, said he was able to offer some words of experience to his family.
“I told them stay strong, don’t worry,” he said.
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin appealed to Cayman residents to do their bit to help the Philippines in the aftermath of the storm.
He said: “If you know of someone in our community who has been affected by this terrible storm, please reach out to them.
“Many Filipinos in the Cayman Islands were here to help Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac rebuild after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Paloma in 2008. While we can’t be in the Philippines to help them recover, we can offer human compassion to those here who are hurting because of this destructive typhoon.”