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Tuesday

Catholic aid agencies rush to help typhoon victims

help the victims of the typhoon in PhilippinesManila, Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News)—In the devastating wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Caritas International, the Catholic Church’s international a relief agency, has rushed to support victims through the distribution of food and first-aid supplies. 

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is a member of Caritas and the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

CRS field teams on the ground are reporting total devastation. They are traveling with their own tents, sleeping materials, food, and water. CRS staff report that fuel is being rationed or sold at a very high price and many roads are still blocked.

Many Redemptorists serve in the Philippines, with eight communities in the Cebu Province—including one in Tacloban, one of the worst-hit cities.

“The devastation is awful, and the situation is outrageously bad at the moment,” said Gilda Avedillo, program officer for Caritas Manila’s disaster-risk reduction and management program.

Avedillo told CNA on Nov. 11 that basic food items, as well as nonfood items such as clothing and medicine, are on “priority” rush and that “efforts are underway for speedy distribution.”

You can help: Donate to CRS now.

On Nov. 8 one of the strongest storms in recorded history, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, struck the island nation with sustained winds of 147 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 170 miles per hour, the BBC reported.

The strong winds led to flash floods and landslides and destroyed many homes and other buildings. Some areas saw 45-foot waves and more than 15 inches of rain.

The typhoon mowed down buildings, trees, and crops, with floodwaters washing away entire towns. In Tacloban a number of large ships were driven ashore by the storm.

Some 10,000 people are believed to have died from the storm, with 600,000 displaced. More than nine million are affected, lacking shelter, food, and potable water.

Caritas’ relief efforts are being conducted through volunteers with both diocesan and parish teams.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu encouraged his people, highlighting their faith in the midst of trials.

“No typhoon or flood can diminish the strength of the Filipino soul,” he said, nor can it “quench the fire of our hope.”

The Filipino bishops’ conference declared a nationwide novena of prayer from Nov. 11 through 19 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, as well as of the earthquake that struck the central Philippines last month.

While Caritas’ 150 volunteers in Manila are packing, collecting, and coordinating the relief efforts, victims’ needs are “increasingly demanding,” as many people have lost their belongings, Avedillo said.

According to the Diocese of San Jose de Antique, 60 percent of houses in the Antique province are damaged or destroyed, and power is unavailable.

A survivor, Rosette Bernardo, told CNA that her family’s crops and plantation were “destroyed completely” but thanked God that her family members had been rescued and were safe.

Avedillo said several challenges lay ahead for relief efforts, the roads in some areas have been destroyed or blocked, and electricity and communication systems have been cut off.

Other challenges are health related, with improper sanitation increasing the risk of disease with contamination, diarrhea, and infestations of mosquitoes.

“It is sad that there have been reported instances of people mobbing, rioting, and looting shops and shopping centers due to hunger and an inadequate supply of food,” said Avedillo.

The United States has sent 90 Marines and Navy servicemen to assist in relief efforts as well as supplies of food, water, and materials for shelter and hygiene.

On Nov. 11 the storm made landfall in northern Vietnam, with sustained winds of up to 85 miles per hour, and it is moving in the direction of southern China.

On Sunday, Pope Francis sent Filipinos a message of prayer and encouragement, saying during his Angelus address, “I want to assure the people of the Philippines and of that region who were struck by the terrible typhoon of my closeness.”

“Let us pray a moment in silence to the Madonna for these our brothers and sisters,” he exhorted, and “let us try also to reach out to them with practical help.”

You can help: Donate to CRS now.

Pray for the victims of the storm and download a pdf copy of the prayer here.

Photo by Paula Bronstein/Copyright 2013 Getty Images