Typhoon Haiyan: Inspiring first-hand account

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You know when you read something that really hits you, you have to share, right?  

Today, I was forwarded an LDS missionary's email who's serving in the Philippines and lived through Typhoon Haiyan.  He serves in the same area as a friend's daughter, and I love this letter because it shows: 1) faith in God, 2) a simple people-to-person view of this nation's struggles, and 3) a case study of how effectively Mormons can organize to serve and lift others (yes, that's kind of bragging, but it's true).  Enjoy and learn how you can directly help the Philippines at the end!

So, we got the warning Thursday morning that hurricane Yolanda (I think it has a different international name, but that's what they call it here) would definitely be hitting us. Evacuating wasn't really an option, because we weren't sure where the storm would land. I'm assigned in President Roxas (PS - this is the name of a city - took me almost the whole email to figure this out : ). The whole island was at risk. So the instructions we got were to get our 72-hour kits prepared, get our apartments set up, and stay away from the windows. We did that that morning, and then in the afternoon we went around warning people. The government drove around a truck warning people, but similarly with Hurricane Katrina, many people refused to evacuate, or they thought the storm would be smaller. So we visited some people, and then went home and got ready.

The next day, power went out at around 9. Wind started picking up. The storm started getting strong around 10. It was loud! The storm lasted a little over 4 hours. We live in a concrete house, pretty strong. Around us there are a few concrete houses, and a lot of bamboo ones, most with metal (thin metal) roofs. As the storm progressed, we watched all the bordering houses have their roofs literally ripped off by the storm, and then gutted. Our roof sounded like it was going to come off, it was banging for the last 2 hours, but it never did. Metal and leaves were flying around. The metal gate in the front of our house was ripped off, completely pulled out of the concrete pillars. As far as our house itself, it's completely fine. Walls are in tact, roof is in tact, doors, windows, everything. Even when the town was flooding after the storm, the water stopped rising at the bottom step of our porch. You can say we had a well built house at a good elevation, but I'm more than certain that we were watched over the whole time. Not just us either. In all of the havoc and wreckage of the storm, and despite all of the deaths, not a single missionary died.

So after the storm, a member (John, 17 years old. he always teaches with us) came plowing through the flood to us. Last he heard from his family, they had never evacuated, and they lived in an area close to the ocean that floods even with a little rain. He had nowhere else to go, so he stayed the night with us. We all thought the worst. Later we would find out that they were all safe. Several of the people near them are still missing however...

Anyway, that was Friday here. Saturday the flood had gone down, so we went out and went to work. The storm was merciless. The entire area is destroyed. I'm sure you can see pictures online. I'll send a few as well. Our house was one of very few to be completely unscathed. Well, our fence was destroyed, but the structure itself. Anyway, we spent the day clearing trees and checking on members. No one that we know personally here is dead. But there are a few dead. In the more populated area, only a handful died, which is a miracle because so many people evacuated late, and many places they evacuated to were damaged as well. Some of the surrounding, weaker areas weren't so lucky. Estancia, 2 towns over, is leveled. Lots of bodies.....

Sunday we went to church. About 20 members came. It was so great to be able to come together with some members, take the sacrament, sing hymns, and talk about the welfare of each other. Our chapel has one broken window, and some dents on the roof, and some rain gutters are gone. That's it.  There were quite a few people who where inside the church house during the storm. They were all fine. Actually, a less active family we visited thursday went there for shelter. They didn't believe there was a storm coming. Had we not visited them, they probably wouldn't have evacuated. They have a daughter less than a year old.... So they were blessed.  After church on Sunday, we rested a bit (it was the sabbath, and we needed some rest badly).

Monday, we went out to try and find clean water, and help get a body out of some rubble. We didn't see the body. We left before he was pulled out. We didn't want to see it..... 

After that, we cooked the meat that we had in the freezer, because it was going bad, and then helped an investigator clear trees around and on their house.

No pure water in President Roxas right now. No electricity. No running water. Next to no cell phone reception. We've got some food stocked up, and hopefully there will be some more before we run out. We were on our last jug of clean water we had, when Monday night the office elders pulled up to the door. They came to check on us, and tell us to come down to the mission home the next day.

Today, we drove down to the mission home. Basically everything we passed on the way down was the same. Trees everywhere, power lines down, houses in ruins or flattened, crops gone, mountains bare, people starting to clear and rebuild. Iloilo city is fine. It's like a regular day down here. At the mission home we were met by Elder Larry Echo Hawk, a Seventy, and a councilor in the area presidency. He met with all the missionaries from affected areas, talked with us, and asked about our areas. They're trying to assess right now if it's safe for us to return to our areas to work, and to see what we need. The church is so organized. They say they're already working on relief forces, they have a budget set, and every single missionary in this country is accounted for. We're safe!

Anyway, I have no idea what we'll be doing the next few days, and months. We have a meeting tomorrow, and they'll probably have more info then. If I go back up to President Roxas, we won't have power for probably 4 months, so it may be a while before I email again. Just know that I'm safe!!!!!

As far as sending stuff, don't worry too much about sending stuff for me. I'll be fine. Send relief support through the church, I promise it will be the quickest and most effective way to get any aid here and to people. Heck, if you're free, get over here yourself, there's a lot of work to do! (**See below for more details on how to help)

I love you all!!! Thank you again for all your prayers! I can't tell you how many miracles we've witnessed the past few days, and God's hand is so evident in my life right now. I'll be honest, it's tough here. But I've felt so comforted and protected. I can't complain. I'm so blessed!

Elder Kylan Rutherford

The view during the storm from inside his apartment.  There was a cement and iron fence like the one on the other side of the red gate that was completely gone.

** Elder Rutherford's mom wrote the following:

"Many of you have asked about sending supplies or money to the relief effort.  I just spoke to LDS Philanthropies and they told me that 100% of the monetary contributions to the Humanitarian Aid General Fund that they receive at this time will go directly to the Philippines. (All LDS Humanitarian workers are volunteer so there is no overhead)  The LDS Church partners with other charitable organizations already in place as well.  If you would like you just go to:  and donate to the Humanitarian Aid General Fund via credit card and the funds are wired directly to the Humanitarian Center in the Philippines to be used right away.  They said they prefer to send the money so that supplies can be purchased in the native country in order to stimulate the economy so they don't accept donations of supplies.  There is a big humanitarian center in Salt Lake City where volunteers are always welcome to come and help prepare goods that do need to be shipped their website reads: "

Wherever possible, humanitarian supplies are acquired in or near the area where they are needed. In some cases, supplies are shipped from Salt Lake City. The humanitarian supplies required by the Church include clothing, hygiene and school kits, emergency medical modules, and quilts. These items are processed and prepared for shipment to where they are needed most. In a typical year, the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center will ship about 8 million pounds of shoes and clothing, 500,000 hygiene and school kits, and 20,000 quilts to relieve suffering in more than 50 countries.

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