PHILADELPHIA — An American Red Cross office in Philadelphia is playing a big role in the effort to help those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, fielding hundreds of calls from people nationwide seeking information about the disaster in the Philippines.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter answered more than 300 calls from midday Saturday through Monday night, which officials said is about 10 times the normal volume.
Many callers are trying to find loved ones in the devastated area. Others want to find ways to help, or to donate money or materials.
The massive storm that hit the island nation Friday has affected 9 million people, many of them now homeless. The official death toll rose to nearly 1,800 on Tuesday, but authorities expect that figure to rise sharply; they fear 10,000 fatalities.
The Red Cross call center in Philadelphia, which is open around the clock all year long, usually receives about a dozen calls a day about small regional disasters like house fires or flooding, spokesman Dave Schrader said.
But when a large-scale crisis strikes, the phones ring almost continuously as calls from across the U.S. are diverted to Philadelphia from Red Cross chapters that are not open 24/7, he said.
So far, volunteers have received about 200 requests to check on the well-being of specific Philippine residents as part of the Red Cross' family tracing services. Those seeking news of U.S. citizens in the Philippines are routed to the State Department.
On Tuesday morning, two of the calls answered by volunteer Mark Klimp were from people wanting to help. A Philadelphia-area businessman asked how he could ship a cargo container of supplies, at his own expense, to the Philippines; Klimp put him in touch with the Philippine Red Cross.
Also, organizers of a cheerleading competition in Maryland wanted to collect donations for the typhoon relief effort; Klimp coordinated the request with that area's Red Cross chapter.
"It's more people wanting to help than people needing help," Klimp said of the calls he took Tuesday. "That's a good reflection of this country."
Overall, the U.S. has pledged $20 million in immediate aid and is sending the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Philippines. The American Red Cross has sent two disaster relief specialists and expects to send two telecommunications experts and a satellite system in the coming days.
Renee Cardwell Hughes, CEO of the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter, suggested those who want to help can donate money either to typhoon relief or to general disaster relief, the latter of which gives the Red Cross the flexibility to respond wherever it's needed.
"Whether it's down the block or around the world," Hughes said, "we will be there."
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