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Mormon families among Filipinos helping their neighbors

'Harrowing' scenes behind them, Mormon missionaries evacuate Tacloban

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12 2013 8:20 p.m. MST

Russel Quima Patalinghug, sitting in white sweater, joins other Mormon Helping Hands volunteers working on relief supplies at the LDS chapel next to the Cebu City Temple in October after an earthquake rocked the Philippines.

Courtesy of Russel Patalinghug

SALT LAKE CITY — First came the mammoth earthquake on Oct. 15. Then the raging typhoon on Nov. 7. The back-to-back disasters provided LDS Bishop Henry Patalinghug, wife Russel and other Mormons in the Philippines a chance to help their suffering neighbors.

Bishop Patalinghug, who oversees the Busay Ward in Cebu City, traveled by boat to the epicenter of the earthquake with 18 other Mormon men skilled in carpentry and masonry on the first weekend in November. They were scheduled to continue to sacrifice three days each weekend until the jobs were done, but before they could leave again Friday, word came that Typhoon Haiphan was rampaging toward them.

The Patalinghugs evacuated their two daughters and other ward members to their chapel in the Cebu City Temple complex before the typhoon. Then they helped everyone return home. Then couple went back to work. On Tuesday, they helped other Mormon Helping Hands volunteers from five LDS stakes who worked until 11 p.m. to pack 3,000 supply kits for victims in the decimated city of Tacloban.

The Patalinghugs represent many of the 675,000 Filipino members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are reaching out to help their neighbors in a disaster-ravaged nation. Meanwhile, the first Mormon missionaries evacuated from Tacloban reached Manila on Tuesday night, where they ate, called their families, shared harrowing tales and prayed for those who have lost loved ones or been displaced by the superstorm.

Efforts to help began before the typhoon hit. Filipino church leaders and members opened at least 200 meetinghouses throughout the country as the typhoon descended on the weekend. Ultimately, they hosted more than 14,000 evacuees, some of whose lives may have been saved by the action.

For Russel Patalinghug, it felt like a continuation of an effort that began with the quake. She said church members began to repack relief goods starting after the first disaster and simply continued after the typhoon.

The supply kits packed at the Cebu City Stake Center on Tuesday by members of the Liloan, Consolacion, Mandaue, Cebu City and Cebu Central stakes were being taken Wednesday by an LDS Charities team to the island of Leyte and the victims at Tacloban.

Henry Patalinghug, 38, manages the family's small souvenir shop in front of the Cebu City Temple and witnessed the quake rotate the Angel Moroni on the temple 90 degrees to the south. Russel, 35, returned to work a month ago as the finance officer of Academy for Creating Enterprise after giving birth to the couple's second child in August.

Two days before the typhoon, Bishop Patalinghug oversaw the effort to contact ward members about the storm by phone call or text. He used the family's small truck to transport evacuees to the chapel, and home again after the typhoon. The church provided bedding and foam mattresses. He also worked to provide food to those too impoverished to procure their own.

The storm reached its worst in Cebu City on Saturday morning, but the Patalinghugs and other evacuees were warm and "comforted" inside the church, Russel said via email. One evacuee said, "We felt so safe inside the chapel." Another said, "We are so lucky to have a refuge here."

The families emerged from the storm unharmed, only to learn that thousands are presumed dead in other areas of their country and that their help was needed.

The LDS Church, through area and local leaders and the efforts of Filipino members, is providing shelter, food, water and other basic supplies to evacuees and displaced families.

The displaced missionaries from the Tacloban Mission began to arrive Tuesday night in Manila. Some were evacuated from Tacloban itself by a U.S. C-130 military transport plane. One of them told a reporter her companion broke a window so they could escape their flooding apartment.

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