LDS Church continues to aid in recovery efforts following Typhoon Haiyan

Published: Monday, March 3 2014 8:00 a.m. MST

Typhoon Haiyan destroyed more than 1.1 million homes in the central Philippines.

The deadliest typhoon on record in the country, the storm left more than 6,100 people dead, injured 28,000 and displaced 4.1 million. Some 1,785 people remain missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in the Philippines.

After the disaster, the LDS Church sent relief supplies and partnered with local and international relief organizations to assist with food, shelter, water purification, debris removal and livelihood restoration projects.

More than 100 days later, the church is still there and the organization’s recovery efforts continue.

Typhoon victims “feel like the church is paying attention to them,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy and president of the church’s Philippines Area. “They know we are all in this together and we are not going to leave them alone.”

Everything was different

Gemmer Esperas was working as a security guard on the day Haiyan stole his daughter. Because there was no sea surge where he was working, he didn’t know the water level was rising at his home.

When he returned after work, everything in his community was different. Houses had been ripped from their foundations. Black mud and water consumed the landscape.

Twenty-three people died in the house next to his; in total, 74 of his neighbors died.

When Gemmer located his wife, there was a nail in her foot, bruises on her body and a large cut on her leg. A Mormon doctor from Manila gave Analyn Esperas a tetanus shot and treated her wounds.

For three days the couple searched for their daughter.

When they found Annammer’s body, Gemmer held his daughter and looked for her wounds, trying desperately to understand her final moments. But there wasn’t a scratch on the little girl.

Annammer’s mother protected her from everything but the sea, he said.

'One nail at a time'

When Elder Ian S. Ardern of the Seventy and a member of the Philippines Area Presidency first visited Tacloban after Haiyan, he could not find words to describe what he saw — and he was grateful for that.

Those sights “will linger in my mind much longer than I want them too,” he said.

He wondered how people could rebuild after such a catastrophe.

Then he saw a local man with a discarded piece of wood and a hammer. He was pulling an old nail out of the wood. ”I thought, that is where you begin. That is where these Filipinos will begin. They will begin one nail at a time.”

Tony San Gabriel, manager for self-reliance in the Philippines, said the LDS Church plans to help with reconstruction.

After Typhoon Haiyan, the church immediately set programs in place to provide relief and help members rebuild, restore and retool, he said.

“We thought, ‘How do you teach self-reliance to a people who were ravaged by a perfect storm?’ ”

They began by helping the some 3,000 members who lost homes in the disaster rebuild.

Working with the local Self Reliance Center and with the Perpetual Education Fund, local members are now entering a church-sponsored vocational program.

The church is also helping them obtain basic tools and learn skills as carpenters, electricians and plumbers. Each trainee builds his or her own house — about 12 feet by 12 feet in dimension — and nine more homes. Then they receive a trade certificate.

“We married the opportunity for livelihood and the need for shelter,” said San Gabriel. “It was a magic formula."

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