Churches on frontline as typhoon batters Philippines

By agency reporter
December 6, 2014

In a country where 80 per cent of people are Catholic, local churches have played a crucial role in helping people prepare for Typhoon Hagupit, which could cause major damage in the Philippines this weekend.

With support from Catholic aid agencies including CAFOD, church groups across the Philippines are ready to provide emergency assistance in the 14 provinces most likely to be hit by Typhoon Hagupit. They have also helped vulnerable people to find safe places to take shelter.

Jo Ignancio, Emergency Coordinator for Caritas Philippines - the aid arm of the Filippino Church - said: “Our diocesan offices are working to make sure that people move out of danger zones and into evacuation centres, and our emergency teams are also ready to reach remote areas with supplies.

“We do not know what the storm will bring, or what damage will be left behind. People are anxious. But Hagupit coming so soon after Typhoon Haiyan hasn’t defeated us. We Filippinos have a deep sense of supporting each other and taking care of vulnerable people. Our aim is to survive. We have a great faith. Hope for us has a capital H!”

Joseph Chacko, Senior Emergency Officer for CAFOD, has helped coordinate the Church response to Typhoon Haiyan over the last year. He said: “In areas where Haiyan hit last year, we have aid stocks ready. The aid stocks are made up of dry food to last around two days, bottled water, plastic sheeting and blankets. It is basic, but in the first 48 hours after the storm, it’s vital for people’s survival.

“Even if the storm loses some of its power, communities will still face flooding from the storm surge and heavy rains. We have rapid response teams on the ground in Samar and Cebu, ready to do immediate assessments of the storm damage, identifying the greatest needs for the worst affected communities.”

On the eve of the typhoon, Renee Lambert, Head of Office for CAFOD partner Catholic Relief Services in Tacloban, said: “Today many more storefronts are closed, almost all of them. The mall is closed.

“I’m also seeing a virtual parade of families on tricycles. They are all relocating, bicycling off to higher ground. They have many household goods hanging from their bikes, including many pairs of rubber boots. They know what to expect from their experience with last year’s Typhoon Haiyan.

“Based on experience, the most immediate needs will likely be the basics – food, clean water and emergency shelter. We’re also really concerned about landslides as the storm is expected to move slowly, which means there will be prolonged rains and flooding. We have to be ready for numerous possibilities.

“On a personal level, I’m moving things away from windows at my home. I have a stockpile of water, canned tuna and rice for 5 days. I’ve set up a gas cooker for rice so we aren’t stuck without a stove if the electricity goes out. I will host three of my colleagues who need a safe place to stay. We’re already planning the games we will play during the storm to keep our spirits up.”

After Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013, hundreds of churches were turned into warehouses for food or shelters for people who’d been made homeless, while priests and parish volunteers delivered supplies to remote areas that were cut off by the storm.

In total, Catholics around the world donated more than £100 million, which helped Church groups reach more than 800,000 people with food, emergency supplies, shelter, water and sanitation and permanent housing. Catholics in England and Wales donated more than £5.4 million to CAFOD.

UNOCHA forecasts that Typhoon Hagupit will make landfall in Northern Samar and Eastern Samar provinces on the night of 6th December (Philippines time). It is currently travelling with maximum sustained winds of 195 kmh.

* CAFOD: http://www.cafod.org.uk

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