Utahns wait, worry, pray for friends, family in the Philippines

Published: Friday, Nov. 8 2013 5:30 p.m. MST

Debris litter the road by the coastal village in Legazpi city following a storm surge brought about by powerful Typhoon Haiyan in Albay province Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, about 520 kilometers ( 325 miles) south of Manila, Philippines.

Nelson Salting, Associated Press

As emergency workers in the Philippines toiled deep into the early morning hours to determine the full extent of Super Typhoon Haiyan's (or Typhoon Yolanda, as the Filipino's call it) impact on Filipino individuals, families and communities, many Utahns with ties to the island nation waited, worried and prayed.

“I have heard from my sister in Cebu, and she tells me that our relatives are all OK, although my parents’ house doesn’t have a roof any more,” said Chris Jan Cortes of South Jordan, a native of Ormoc in the Philippine province of Leyte, one of the first areas hit by the eye of the storm with its 200 mile per hour winds.

“But I haven’t had direct communication with anyone from my home town,” Cortes said. “I’ve been trying to call since last night. I have a lot of friends and relatives there. I just don’t know what is happening with them.”

Officials at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know just how Cortes feels. A press release issued by the church late Friday afternoon indicated that "all Mormon missionaries serving in the church's 21 Filipino missions are accounted for, with the exception of some serving in the Philippines Tacloban Mission." That part of the Philippines has been hardest hit by the storm, and church officials say they are "working to establish contact with Tacloban mission leaders."

"A church Welfare Department employee is traveling to the island of Leyte with communication equipment to establish contact with the Tacloban mission president," said Stephen B. Allen, managing director of the church Missionary Department. "We plan to be in communication with those in Leyte by Saturday in the Philippines."

The LDS press release also indicated that efforts are being made to contact all church members in the affected areas. What is known, the release indicated, is that some 14,000 church members and others have sought refuge in 200 LDS meetinghouses in the country.

Maria Findlay, a Philippines native who lives in Murray, has been anxious about her son, Mark, who is a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines Butuan Mission. Knowing that he is safe is a relief, she says, although she is sure the missionaries "have been having an experience.”

Which is something to which both she and Cortes can relate, since they both went through similar typhoons when they lived in the Philippines. Findlay remembers seeing the roof of her parents’ home “flapping back and forth” during one such storm when she was a little girl. And Cortes remembers Tropical Storm Thelma in 1991, during which thousands of people lost their lives in the post-storm flooding.

“Thankfully, they are better prepared now and the flood damage should not be so severe as that,” Cortes said. “But this is a much stronger storm.”

That notion was affirmed by Cynthia Santoni, who with her husband, James, oversees the Academy for Creating Enterprise, which teaches entrepreneurial skills to returned LDS missionaries in the Philippines. Reached at 1 a.m. local time in the home she shares with her husband and three children in Mectan Island, Cebu Province, she said the storm was “very, very scary.”

“We experienced the earthquake two weeks ago, we have experienced volcanic eruptions and other typhoons, but we have never been through anything like that,” she said just minutes after electricity was restored to her area. “We tried to distract our children with games and desserts — anything to entertain them. But it got so dark and the wind started howling. We could feel our walls shaking so much, it was almost like going through another earthquake. Only it was longer and more powerful. It was frightening.”

Thankfully, Santoni said, “we have known for about a week that this was coming, so we were all able to prepare well.”

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere