Filipino expats desperate to reach relatives after destructive Typhoon Haiyan

Nida Medeiros (R) and her mother.
Nida Medeiros (R) and her mother.

In the midst of news that as many as 2,500 lives have been claimed by the violent typhoon that hit the Philippines Friday, countless heartbreaking pleas are emerging from people desperate to get in touch with loved ones to let them know they are alive — and in dire need of help.

Many Filipinos who migrated to the United States, like Nida Medeiros who lives in Assonet outside Boston, have been out of touch with their families since Typhoon Haiyan ravaged parts of the country, knocking out phone lines and electricity. Medeiros, 53, has been desperately calling her entire family living in the Philippines but hasn’t been able to reach them.

Medeiros’ 88-year-old mother, her nine siblings and all her nieces and nephews live in a village about four hours from the hard-hit Tacloban City. She was the only member of her family to leave the Philippines when she came to the U.S. in 1990. She said she last spoke to her sister on Nov. 1 when she called to let her know she sent money, as she does each month — long before news that a typhoon was brewing.

“My heart is just aching for them being out there,” Medeiros said. “I can’t even send them a little bit of money to help them get something to eat.”

Medeiros said her family in the Philippines depends on the money she has been sending them since she left. She fears her relatives may be among the typhoon victims who are desperate for food and clean water.

“I think maybe some of them might have gotten hurt, some not. I have a feeling the house is all gone,” she said. “If they find a cell phone, they might be able to reach me or my husband, but it’s just so hard. I am waiting and waiting, and it might take weeks.”

Dozens of aid organizations and countries have already pledged support to the Philippines, though recent reports indicate the current situation is grim for survivors urgently in need of medical supplies and food. The United States will provide $20 million in humanitarian assistance and a first-wave military response of 90 Marines and sailors. The World Bank is also considering increasing its cash assistance to the Philippines and removing conditions placed on the country.

Medeiros said sometimes in instances of natural disaster in the Philippines, like this typhoon, it can be incredibly difficult for survivors to access relief aid sent to the country, especially if they can’t travel to where it is distributed.

“Most people who handle it, sometimes they take it for themselves,” she said. “[My family] doesn’t have any money for a bus there, they won’t get the help.”

For now, Medeiros, like many Filipinos who are living outside their country, must wait in the hope to hear any news — good or bad — from their families. When asked what she would tell them, if able to send a message, she said she is standing by to help, if they could just reach her to tell her how.

“I just hope that they are alright. I hope that they survived,” she said. “There is nothing I can do being here without contact with them. I won’t give up.”

Follow Cassandra Garrison on Twitter: @CassieAtMetro



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