In Her Hometown
Are Among Those
Hit Hard By Typhoon
By John M. Jones Jr.
For more than a week,Tusculum resident Mercy Casiroman Phillips has been desperately concerned for the safety of her father, who is among those trapped in the typhoon-devastated town of Balangiga in The Philippines.
Phillips has learned from Facebook messages that the small coastal town — her hometown — has been almost entirely without food or water for several days.
As news agencies around the world have reported, Super-Typhooh Haiyan struck The Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8, with historic force, leaving thousands dead, many more injured, and billions of dollars in property damage.
Making the situation much worse, and Mercy Phillips’ concern much deeper, is the fact that, at least for now, Balangiga (pronounced BALANHEGA) is apparently beyond the reach of either the Filipino Red Cross or the Filipino government.
So, because emergency assistance through official channels seems impossible for now and the situation has become increasingly urgent, she and others around the world with connections to Balangiga have decided to take action on their own.
They feel theymust succeed for the sake of those they love who are trying to survive until full-scale relief can reach them.
So, along with others who are part of a Facebook network around the world with ties to the little Filipino community, Phillips is doing everything she can to find a way to get aid to her father and others in Balangiga.
She is also hoping that some fellow Greene Countians will be willing to assist her and the others in their effort to bring help to the town.
Devastated By typhoon
A native of The Philippines, Mercy Phillips has lived in the Tusculum community for years with her husband, Robert, who is an employee of Meco Corporation following a combined 21 years of service with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.
The couple has two children: Aaron, 12, a seventh-grader at Chuckey-Doak Middle School, and Rachel, 10, a fourth-grader at Doak Elementary.
Her mother died when she was a child, but her father and a number of other relatives have continued to live in Balangiga, a community of about 13,000 on the coast of the province of Eastern Samar on the island of Samar.
That area of the central Philippines suffered an extremely destructive blow from Super-Typhoon Haiyan.
The Super Typhoon has been called probably the worst typhoon ever to hit the Philippines, which is a nation composed of numerous islands with a common national government based at Manila, on the island of Luzon.
Telephone communications with Balangiga have been cut off since the storm hit, but Facebook photos sent out from the town show that it was wrecked by Haiyan.
Fourteen people in the town are reported to have died as a result of the typhoon, according to a report attributed to Balangiga’s Office of Municipal Social Welfare and and Development Services.
In addition to the deaths, and numerous injuries, many commercial buildings are in ruins, and a large church dating to the 1800s suffered heavy damage. (Please see accompanying photos.)
Although Mercy Phillips has been unable to reach her father since the typhoon struck, she learned early Wednesday afternoon that he is alive, she said.
She said in an interview that she has also learned at least two of her relatives there lost their homes. She has no news about the safety of other relatives or whether their homes have been affected.
Many Roads Not Usable
But information that has reached her on Facebook through the network of former Balangiga residents says that after more than a week, the town remains cut off and in desperate need of food and water.
The Filipino Red Cross and the Philippines government are struggling to cope with the catastrophe and to reach the hardest-hit areas with badly needed food, water and medical attention but are having great difficulty in doing so.
Balangiga itself has no Red Cross chapter, she said, and the roads to the town are reported to be badly damaged, and dangerous for relief workers to travel for fear of being hijacked and their supplies stolen.
How This Effort Came About
Faced with those circumstances, Phillips said that she and others around the world on the Facebook network are trying to raise funds for an independent effort to reach the town with food and water, probably by sea.
In an email to the Sun, she explained her own background and why she and the others had decided to take action on their own.
“My family and I moved to Greeneville [in] 2004 from Galesburg, Ill.,” she wrote. “I was born and raised in Balangiga, studied elementary, high school [there], moved to Manila in college, and came to the U.S. [in 1999].
“I went back to the Philipines [and] visited my father in Balangiga in 2010. My Facebook account name is: Mercy Casiroman.
“We [in the Facebook network] are a group of volunteers who were born and raised in Balangiga and still have families living there. We created a Facebook group account.
“[We live] all over the Philippines and some around the world. We have 400-plus members. ...
“I [got] involved [in the attempt to intervene] after seeing pictures, horror stories. There are some casualties. I am [on] the other side of the world. This is my way of helping them.
“The group [is] raising awareness in behalf of the people of Balangiga, my hometown. We are begging for help [with] monetary donations. The money that we raise will 100 percent [be used to] buy food such as rice, canned goods, bread, clothing, clean water, medicine, flashlights and candles.
[“There is] no electricity yet. It will take months to get it restored, and medicine [brought in]. There is no store standing for miles so the relief goods headquarters is located in Cebu City, Philippines.
“The plan is to buy relief goods, rent a boat or a helicopter. Preferably a boat. It is safer right now.
[The roads are] slowly getting cleaned, but help from the government [is] really slow because there are so many towns and small villages that are affected.”
She said Saturday that the first batch of relief supplies provided through the Facebook network reached the town that day, but she does not expect those initial supplies to last long.
“The survivors in my hometown are starving [and] badly need help right now.
“And even if there [is] more help from other sources later, the more help the better, because Balangiga has an estimated 13,000 population. All were affected. The town [is] in ruin...
“Please help me spread the story of my hometown ... in your Greeneville Sun newspaper so the generous, compassionate people in Greeneville ... will read and find out that somewhere far away needs their help.
“Any amount will be greatly appreciated.”
If You Want To Help
After learning of the situation and the urgency of the food and water needs in Balangiga, a local church has agreed to serve as a vehicle through which Greene Countians who would like to send help to Balangiga can do so easily and quickly.
The Rev. Jamie Lively, pastor of Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said Sunday evening that, although the church is not a sponsor of the relief effort, the church is sympathetic to the urgency of the situation in Balangiga and is glad to serve as an immediately-available channel for donations.
Anyone who would like to contribute to that effort, he said, may mail or bring the donation to the church.
Checks should be made out to “Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church,” but they should be clearly designated for “PHILIPPINES RELIEF.”
The church is located in downtown Greeneville at this address:
Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church
201 N. Main St.
Greeneville, TN 37745
Pastor Lively said that donations to the relief project will be placed in a Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church outreach account at a local bank.
All money contributed will be transferred electronically by the bank to the relief account for Balangiga which has been established specifically for that purpose by the Facebook network in The Philippines.
The church will also send receipts to donors for their gifts if return addresses are provided, Pastor Lively said.