In the past 12 months, two storms of unimaginable magnitude and destruction struck at the opposite ends of the globe. Both times, the American Red Cross has been a source of hope and comfort for New Yorker Emelyn Saavedra, a native of Tacloban, Philippines.
After Sandy struck the East Coast last year, the 37-year-old home care worker, her 13-year-old daughter and her boyfriend, who lived near the water in Long Beach, N.Y., took refuge a few miles away in the Rockaways with her boyfriend’s family.
Although she had grown used to typhoons in the Philippines, Saavedra, who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years, was badly shaken up by Sandy. She recalled being able to see the water levels rising and lapping at the steps of the building from the second floor apartment in the Rockaways.
“We just had to pray," she said. "That’s all we could do.”
Saavedra, her daughter, and boyfriend made it through the storm, but have remained in the Rockaways, since her Long Beach home was destroyed.
Meanwhile, after the storm, the Red Cross was on the ground helping storm survivors in the Rockaways, as well as throughout the hard-hit coastal communities of the five boroughs of NYC and Long Island.
“The Red Cross was right there—everywhere—looking for people who had gotten hit with Sandy, who had no shelter,” Saavedra said. “They were asking us all: ‘Is there anything that could help right away? Are people hurt?’ We were happy hearing from Red Cross, telling us, ‘Don’t lose hope, we are here.’”
Saavedra needed only food and beverages from the organization. She did not ask for further assistance because, as she said, “I was thinking other people could use help more.”
Then, on November 8 of this year, just a little over a year after Sandy made landfall, Haiyan roared through Saavedra's hometown of Tacloban where nearly all of her family still lives.
At about 5 a.m. Philippine time, as Haiyan was hitting Tacloban, Saavedra was on the phone with family members. She told them to make sure they were prepared for the storm and to gather up enough food and water. She also urged them to boil their water to assure its safety.
As they spoke, she could hear the wind howling in the background. In their final minutes speaking together, her family told her, “This is it, we have to move. We have to go.”
“That was my last conversation from them,” she said.
Two days after the storm, Saavedra was franticly trying to reach her siblings. Then, she saw a Red Cross posting on Facebook: People unable to locate family in the Philippines could call the Red Cross for help.
Though it was the middle of the night in New York, Saavedra dialed the number and was connected with a Red Cross worker, Tim Bothe, in Colorado.
“I need help right away,” she told him. “I haven’t talked to my family; I know the Red Cross is worldwide, and I’m sure you have people over there already. Can you please check on my family?”
The Red Cross took all the information Saavedra could provide.
“The last person I talked to, the last places they were … I tried to help the Red Cross locate my family through the information I was giving,” Saavedra said.
The next day at work, Saavedra was sick with worry, unable to concentrate.
“And then I receive a call from the Red Cross,” she said. “‘How are you doing?' they asked. 'I want to make sure everything is okay with you. We’re still with you.’”
Saavedra still felt worried, but was reassured that she was not alone.
The Red Cross continued to check in on Saavedra, who had not expected this level of support.
“You guys rock,” she said.
Finally, Saavedra’s youngest sister called from Tacloban, with the news that her siblings, though displaced from their homes, were all okay.
Although Saavedra is still distressed about the dire situation her relatives face in Tacloban and grieving the loss of some extended family members, she knows the Red Cross is there for her.
She has now connected with her local Red Cross chapter. A number of chapter members paid her a visit last Sunday in Long Beach as she was organizing a community event for the local Filipino community.
Saavedra has even expressed interest in volunteering with the Greater New York Red Cross. “I would sign up as a volunteer and give my whole heart to it,” she said, “because you have helped me.”
She added, “I just want to thank the Red Cross. I needed a family and I found it in the Red Cross."
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossNY.