TORONTO – Canada’s Filipino community is cobbling together resources to send to the Philippines as many people frantically try to contact friends and loved ones missing in what appears to be the country’s deadliest storm yet.
As prayers went out Sunday for survivors of typhoon Haiyan, plans were also being quickly drawn up to send over assistance to the hardest-hit areas.
Rev. Ben Ebcas Jr. told rows of concerned congregants at his midtown Toronto church his fears about his two brothers who are missing on Leyte Island, which saw some of the worst of the storm.
“It’s sad and it’s difficult. I couldn’t sleep, but we have to pray for one another,” he said after mass, fighting back tears.
Officials fear as many as 10,000 people may be dead in one Philippine city alone, and officials say the death toll could climb even higher when emergency crews reach areas cut off by flooding and landslides.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the government is considering activating the Disaster Assistance Response Team to help typhoon victims. The DART is largely a military team that can provide a variety of services such as emergency medical care and clean water. An advance team of officials has been sent to the Philippines to assess whether the DART should be deployed, Baird said Sunday.
As news of the damage continued to worsen, a number of Canadian churches drew together groups of people eager to help support victims of the typhoon in some way.
Ebcas, who witnessed the previous deadliest Philippine storm 22 years ago, urged his congregation to contribute whatever they could to a parish fundraising effort.
“What we need is quick response. Financial assistance will be the number one way of helping our people,” he told reporters outside the Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Parish.
The storm has severed telephone links to many areas, leaving many Canadian Filipinos distressed over what has become of their relatives.
“There is so much to worry about because we cannot communicate with our family back home,” said Toronto resident Josephine Herrera, who came to Canada in 2002.
She said her family home had been damaged and her two sisters were stranded in a central island city, cut off from their children in an area walloped by the fierce storm.
“At this very moment I want to do everything I cannot do because I am far away from them,” Herrera said anxiously.
Nellie Vandht, 50, lives in the Vancouver area, but is originally from Tacloban. She said she has not been able to reach her aunts, uncles and cousins in Tacloban, where her father is also buried.
“They’re gone. They’re wiped off,” she said, fearing the worst.
Vandht said news of the damage has devastated many in Vancouver’s Filipino-Canadian community who were forced to leave their families in the hopes of providing a better life for them while working in Canada.
“We don’t have two, three jobs here just for ourselves, but because our loved ones are there and they need our help, so we do this,” she said. “That is most difficult, leaving your loved ones there.”
Vandht has joined a local TV show host and a local business owner in organizing a fundraiser on Thursday that will feature tribute artists and a silent auction. All proceeds will go towards the Canadian Red Cross.
Power has yet to be restored after the typhoon unleashed ferocious winds and giant waves that washed away homes and schools.
Minister of International Development Christian Paradis announced Sunday that Ottawa will match each dollar of typhoon aid donated by Canadians to registered charities. The government earlier said it would contribute as much as $5 million to support humanitarian organizations helping typhoon victims.
A massive relief operation is already underway, with some Canadian organizations sending teams to the Philippines.
A four-person rapid response Global Medic crew left Toronto for the Philippines on Sunday, taking with it water purification units and other supplies.
Spokesman Andrew Budziak said the team is going to the devastated central islands with little heads-up knowledge of the scene they’ll find on the ground.
“It’s so hard, even for people in the Philippines, to get an idea of what’s going on,” he said.
“We’re hearing reports of mass graves. But there are still areas in the country that nobody’s been able to reach.”
Meanwhile, Jessie Thomson, the director of CARE Canada’s humanitarian assistance and emergency team said his organization plans to provide immediate essentials like shelter, water and food to communities that have lost everything.
Typhoon Haiyan raced across the eastern and central Philippines this weekend, inflicting serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands.
It weakened as it crossed the South China Sea before approaching northern Vietnam, where it was forecast to hit land either late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
Canadians needing urgent consular help following Typhoon Haiyan can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call collect 613-996-8885.