Friday, November 24, 2017
News Roundup

Tampa Bay Filipinos worry, wait for word from relatives affected by typhoon

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Ed Bilbao watched helplessly as TV news reports showed Typhoon Haiyan slicing into the island of Leyte, the belly of the Philippines and home to Bilbao's family.

Four days later, Bilbao and millions of Filipino-Americans, including more than 15,000 in the Tampa Bay area, still await word on the fate of their countrymen.

"We've been trying to get in touch since Thursday," said the 62-year-old Bilbao, who now lives in Land O'Lakes. "Communication is very spotty at best."

One of the most devastating storms on record killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless, with the worst reported damage on the island of Leyte.

As the storm bore down on the island nation, Bilbao tried to call relatives from his cellphone. But his calls were met with silence. Text messages, too.

After the worst passed, he got a call from his sister in Manila, the capital city in the northern part of the country. She spoke of what the news had been repeating — buildings demolished, loss of electricity, massive devastation.

But she was all right, she told him. So was his brother, Rudy, who got a message to her.

But three other brothers on Leyte had yet to be reached.

Rudy, who lost his home and whose family was living in a tent, was planning to ride a motorcycle across the island to try to find his brothers, Bilbao said. But it would be difficult, as many roads were impassable.

"We're hoping for the best, in a sense," he said. "All we can really do is wait."

It was all that Edna Duran could do, too.

She grew up in Leyte, and watched with dread from her New Port Richey home as TV images showed bodies lying in streets and buildings reduced to rubble.

Her sister is still there. They haven't spoken, but a message relayed through family painted a grim portrait.

No food. No water. No electricity. Families living in the street. Fights breaking out when relief supplies are shipped in.

"I cried in front of the TV," Duran said. "It's just too much for me. … It's never going to be the same."

Roque Barrido, chairman of the Philippine Cultural Foundation of Tampa Bay, hasn't slept well since the night last week when he phoned his brother, Anecito, and could hear the storm's winds through the phone.

He later learned his brother's house, in the province of Iloilo, west of Leyte, was destroyed. He was able to connect with his niece, who reported the family was okay. But so many others were not.

"It is scary," he said. "I'm still shaky because of the news that is coming in."

Barrido's group, along with others throughout Tampa Bay, are taking action. On Nov. 23, they will hold a fundraiser for typhoon relief at the Philippine Cultural Center in Tampa. It will be similar to a fundraiser they held two weeks ago to help after last month's deadly earthquake.

Members of Hernando County's Philippine-American Association are also doing what they can to help. The group of about 200 members recently sent $500 in donations to help after last month's deadly earthquake, said chairwoman Aurora Rice. The association sent $1,000 when a typhoon barreled over the country in 2009.

Now members are working to collect cash, food, medicine, clothing and other supplies for a disaster that exceeds both of those tragedies, Rice said.

"We've been hit so many times," she said. "It's sad. Right now I still have goose bumps and fears every time I see the pictures on television."

Rice was born in the city of Baybay, about an hour's drive south of Tacloban, the worst-hit city on the eastern seaboard. She moved to the United States in the 1970s, but she still has friends and extended family members in the region who grow rice, coconuts and bananas.

When Rice dials their phone numbers, she gets silence. She hopes the worst news she will hear once she does reach them is that the storm devastated the farm.

"We can replant," she said, "but life cannot be replaced."

Times staff writer Laura C. Morel and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report, which included information from the Associated Press.

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