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 via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (303) 607-4785.
PHILIPPINE RED CROSS ON THE GROUND
The Philippine Red Cross is leading this response effort and their volunteers have been caring for people even before Typhoon Haiyan made landfall. Prior to the arrival of Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippine Red Cross worked closely with local disaster authorities to support preemptive evacuations, helping move more than 125,000 families to safer shelters. The Philippine Red Cross also disseminated early warning messages and safety tips in areas along the path of the typhoon.
Days later, Philippine Red Cross volunteer rescue and relief teams continue to provide assistance in the hardest hit communities, including assisting in search and rescue efforts. The Philippine Red Cross has extensive experience in search and rescue and large-scale relief and recovery programs. The Philippine Red Cross is the largest humanitarian organization in the country, with 1,000 staff members and an estimated 500,000 active volunteers engaged in response to this emergency.
The Philippine Red Cross has begun distributions of relief supplies and volunteers are packing more supplies to send to all the affected areas. However, delivery of supplies in the worst affected city of Tacloban has been significantly constrained by damage to local infrastructure. Typhoon Haiyan hit the city of about 220,000 people the hardest with a tsunami-like storm surge pushing a wall of water nearly 10 feet high inland.
Specialized emergency response teams from Red Cross societies across the globe are moving into the Philippines to assist the Philippine Red Cross. These include teams with expertise in logistics, disaster assessment, shelter, health, water and sanitation.
AMERICAN RED CROSS RESPONSE EFFORTS
The American Red Cross is among those societies helping support the response efforts of the Philippine Red Cross. Four people from the American Red Cross have arrived in the Philippines. These include two people who specialize in telecommunication and who are travelling with satellite equipment, and two others who specialize in disaster assessment.
When responding overseas, the American Red Cross response is different than a typical disaster response in the United States, working closely with the affected Red Cross society who serves as the lead to provide the level of staff support and assistance requested.
The American Red Cross is also helping to reconnect families separated by this typhoon and has activated its family tracing services.
The American Red Cross remains in close contact with the Philippine Red Cross, and more help and assistance will be provided in the days ahead.
People who want to donate to the American Red Cross to support the response for this typhoon can go to redcross.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS.To learn more about the International services of the Red Cross go to http://www.redcross.org/what-we-do/international-services.