Relief efforts mobilize in U.S. to assist typhoon victims

A text message from across the globe assured Owings Mills, Md., resident Sonia Neumeier that her 89-year-old mother survived Typhoon Haiyan, which flattened her hometown of Sara in the Philippines. Now her concerns turn to the living conditions of the shelter where her mother will have to stay in the coming weeks, the lack of food and running water and the possible spread of disease.

But Ms. Neumeier hopes to turn her anxiety into something positive, as she prepares to travel to the Philippines in January on a medical mission with the Philippine Nurses Association of Maryland — one of dozens of organizations in the D.C. region either raising funds or traveling to the devastated country to provide aid in the aftermath of one of the most powerful recorded typhoons.

“I don’t know her whereabouts, but I know she is alive, thank God,” said Ms. Neumeier, who emigrated from the Philippines 34 years ago. “You feel helpless, but sometimes you just have to be strong. Right now we are taking action and we are mobilizing the community to take action.”

Friday’s typhoon reportedly killed 10,000 or more people, but with the slow pace of recovery the official death toll remained well below that. The Philippine military confirmed 942 dead, but shattered communications and transportation links have hampered access, and local governments suggest the final toll is days away.

Ms. Neumeier said the nurses association, as well as members from the Foundation for Aid to the Philippines and other community members, plan to meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Towson Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library to discuss additional plans.

Across the region, several local organizations were planning events in response to other recent tragedies in the country and saw their fundraising efforts gain extra attention as the devastation wrought by the typhoon grew more apparent.

The Philippine American Foundation for Charities has already donated $1,000 raised as relief for victims of an earthquake that struck the country in October. In partnership with the Philippine Embassy, the Falls Church-based nonprofit foundation will host a relief concert in Springfield on Dec. 1. But with such widespread destruction, it’s tough to know where to focus efforts, chairman Ador Carreon said.

“Last week, we were called by the Philippine Embassy to help reconstruct a church in Bahol which was damaged by the earthquake, and now this typhoon hit almost the same area. It’s kind of hard to decide what the priority should be,” Mr. Carreon said.

The embassy has also tried to provide guidance for people looking to give donations for disaster relief and has posted a list of aid groups on its website.

“We do have lots of people with good hearts sending donations and asking what’s the procedure,” said Joel Impat, of the Philippine Embassy.

The American Red Cross, which set up call centers over the weekend to field inquiries about missing friends or relatives in the country, recommends monetary contributions as the best way for people to donate, unless they already have ties to a group on the ground.

“It is better that organized groups go that they can support their own members,” said Paul Carden, a regional disaster program officer with the Red Cross. “You’ve got to bring enough stuff for yourself. When our folks go, they go with an initial supply stock.”

Authorities said at least 2 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, which is one of the most powerful recorded typhoons to ever hit land and likely the deadliest natural disaster to beset the poor Southeast Asian nation.

Kellan Howell contributed to this report.

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