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Colorado Red Cross Workers Helping Reconnect Filipino Families

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Those three simple words – ‘I am alive’ – mean so much to someone who is worried about a loved one.

Since Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Pacific islands of the Philippines on Friday, Red Cross workers in the Colorado and Wyoming Region have opened 37 cases to help re-establish communications for residents all over the United States – and even China and Canada – looking for hundreds of their loved ones in the Philippines.

Last Friday, Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Pacific islands of the Philippines, leaving behind a scene of destruction and despair. The global Red Cross network is responding to emergency needs in the Philippines with food, water, and relief supplies, and the American Red Cross is lending people, expertise and equipment to this massive effort.  Recognizing that communications capabilities through the region have been significantly damaged, the American Red Cross has activated the restoring family links service to accept disaster inquiries for the Philippines.

Saturday afternoon, Tim Bothe, International Services Manager for the American Red Cross Colorado and Wyoming Region, received his first inquiry from a woman in Wyoming looking for the whereabouts of her family in the Philippines. He opened a Restoring Family Links case for her to begin the international tracing process, and encouraged her to let family and friends know about the Red Cross service.

“The information went viral. Via Facebook and other social media, the word spread to people as far away as China. Within two and a half hours, I had received five voicemails and 17 texts from concerned people hoping to reestablish communications with their loved ones in the Philippines,” Bothe said.

Bothe quickly mobilized a team of local volunteers, who have been taking calls and initiating family tracing cases. So far they have been in touch with 37 families who are seeking to get back in communication with 168 individuals living, working or visiting the Philippine islands. Local volunteers gather as much information on the people being sought as possible, then submit the tracing inquiry to the national American Red Cross to be delivered to the Philippine Red Cross, which then uses caseworkers on the ground to seek out the family members in question.

“We do everything we can to try to locate them. In the initial aftermath, it may be a simple ‘I am safe’ message until phone lines come back on. But those three simple words – ‘I am alive’ – mean so much to someone who is worried about a loved one,” Bothe said. He added that the amount of time it takes to re-establish contact can vary depending upon the circumstances. “Sometimes people are able to get back in touch on their own as cell service comes back on, and sometimes cases can be resolved as Red Cross workers locate individuals via shelter lists and home visits. But sometimes, unfortunately, it can take months if a person has disappeared,” Bothe said.

Thus far, about one-third of the families who have contacted Colorado and Wyoming Red Cross workers for assistance have successfully been able to re-establish contact with loved ones, either on their own or through help from the Red Cross or other agencies.

While Red Cross relief efforts are well underway, blocked roads, destroyed infrastructure and downed communication lines are making the response particularly challenging – including re-establishing connections due to downed phone lines.

The Philippines, a nation of more than 7,000 islands, faces enormous devastation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that produced record strength winds along with high storm surges. Approximately 10 million people across 40 provinces have been affected with as many as 600,000 people displaced and the death toll continuing to rise.

If people are looking for a missing family member in the Philippines, please remember that many phones lines are down. If you are still unable to reach loved ones, you can open a family tracing request. To initiate a case, please contact Tim Bothe by phone at (303) 607-4785.

For more information about the Red Cross response to Super Typhoon Haiyan, visit http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Sends-Support-to-Philippines-for-Typhoon-Response.