TERRE HAUTE —
As I woke up one morning last week, I learned that there were thousands of people from my native land, the Philippines, who will never wake up after one particularly powerful typhoon hit.
As I ate my breakfast, I realized that there were tens of thousands more who survived but were going to sleep that night hungry, thirsty and without a roof over their heads.
When the sun rose in central Philippines last weekend, it shed light on the impact of supertyphoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Yolanda) — dubbed the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall — which washed away everything in its path, including thousands of lives.
One entire city, Tacloban, was reduced to a “vast wasteland,” with no power, communication infrastructure or even food.
When news reached me in Terre Haute, I thought of my friends in the Visayas, the group of islands that was in Haiyan’s path.
But it also brought back childhood memories of commuting, by public transportation or walking, from school to home in the middle of storms. As a child, I waded through high floodwaters inside our home when our kitchen and bathroom flooded during frequent typhoons in Manila, the Philippines’ capital.
Those experiences taught me lessons of optimism, faith and solidarity that I may have forgotten amidst the busy life I lead in the U.S., my beloved adopted home.
These lessons came rushing back to me as I watched people around me respond to the disaster.
“Good news, they’re fine. Got to reach them already, they just have no food and water,” my best friend, a worker in the Middle East who urgently tried to contact her family after the storm, posted on Facebook.
What she meant, of course, by “good news” was that her relatives were alive. Having no food and water took a backseat momentarily.
Here in America, we were worried and shocked by the images we saw and the news stories we read.
And yet, we were helpless because we were oceans away from our friends and loved ones.
One Terre Haute resident, whose family was in Samar and was affected by the storm, described how she felt while waiting patiently for updates about her family:
“There’s the feeling of emptiness, uncertainty and just holding by a thread on a prayer,” Pamela Antonio said.
Thankfully, her grandmother and relatives survived, with some damage to the family home.
“The only thing you can do is pray for their safety because we’re so far away from them that we cannot do anything much about it,” Antonio said.
Antonio believed not only in God but also in the resiliency of her relatives and of the Filipino people.
But for Antonio and many others, that faith was also coupled with action.
Globally and nationally, people rushed to offer donations for the relief effort. Countries have pledged or sent monetary and in-kind donations. Many people have donated to charities such as the Red Cross. Dinners and other fundraising events were organized from coast to coast in the United States.
In Terre Haute, local churches are collecting donations this weekend for the relief effort.
And many people have changed their Facebook profile pictures to a picture of the Philippine islands in white, with a plain black backdrop. Below it are the words “United As One.”
It is ironic that while disasters claim lives and destroy properties, they also give us a chance to come together, rebuild and strengthen our spirits. Disasters give us a chance, perhaps a second chance, to truly live not only for ourselves but also for others.
Life is short and fragile.
So remember to hug your loved ones everyday and show them you love them.
Make every effort to be with them as often as possible.
I know I will.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.