PLATTSBURGH — Mooers residents Art and Norma Menard quietly collect donations from family and friends to send to Typhoon Haiyan victims in her hometown.
She grew up in of Dueñas, Iloilo Province, located in the Western Visayas of the Philippine Islands.
“We’re two islands west of Tcloban City, that was badly hit, that was devastated by the typhoon,” said Norma, who is the executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County.
She and her husband met in 1973 while working for the Peace Corps.
Facebook is the primary communication platform between Norma and her nieces, nephews, two brothers and sister.
“I have not been able to get through by cellphone because the connection is intermittent,” Norma said this week. “There are just a lot of interruptions.”
Her niece Lilibeth Vallejo updates Facebook regularly.
“She’s a nurse and works in the city,” Norma said. “Her mother is a school teacher in my hometown. My sister-in-law, Elena, has been helping with emergency operations at the evacuation center.”
MOVED BEFORE STORM
In all, 142 families were evacuated to Dueñas Elementary and High School, Norma’s alma mater.
“People have been helping each other,” she said. “I think there are two reported casualties in my hometown. I don’t know the circumstances. But for the most part, it was kept to a minimum because they evacuated two days before the storm.”
On the Weather Channel, Art tracked the typhoon warnings issued near Palau a week ago.
“I remember Hurricane Mitch,” said Art, a retired Northeastern Clinton Central School math teacher. “I remember Hurricane Andrew. I remember Hurricane Katrina and what it looked like on radar.
“I said, ‘Norma, that’s going to be it. It’s going to hit us, and all we can do is pray.’ You could see it, and there was nothing you could do. It was going to go where it was going to go.
“It was scary. You realize and you know what is going to happen to those people. You know what happened in those other situations — and what can you do?”
The total lives lost in the typhoon’s 195 mph winds and 20-foot storm surge was listed Friday at 3,621, with 1,140 people missing and more than 12,000 injured.
Art pointed at a map showing the vulnerability of the province’s northeastern coastal towns.
“This area of the province, it was total devastation,” Art said. “All these little towns, they say there are no houses. Fortunately, Norma’s hometown is slightly inland and farther south.”
Typhoon Haiyan’s center tracked parallel to the northern part of the island.
“Tcloban is over here,” Art said. “So, it was a close call for her family. You can see why Tcloban was so destroyed. See how the bay funnels into this little, narrow strait. There was no place for the water to go. So when they had 195-mph winds, it just went right over this city.”
Sea water surged from the Leyte Gulf into San Pedro and San Pablo Bay and crested in Cancabato Bay and over the San Juanico Strait.
“There is damage in my hometown,” Norma said. “People lost homes, and people will help each other.
“There are a lot of emergency operations going on, and most of them are headed toward Tcloban. So, we’re focusing our help on my hometown because there are few emergency crews there.”
Dueñas sustained a lot of flooding.
“The bridges were under 6 feet of water, so roads were impassable,” Norma said. “They wanted to do some reconstruction, but the crews couldn’t get through. In five years, this is the third major flooding in my hometown.”
She sends donations she receives to her nephew, Thomas Vallejo, who works at a bank.
“I have honest, reliable people,” Norma said. “My nieces, my nephew, my sister and brothers are very active in the community helping to organize things.
“There have been a lot of donations coming in from family and friends who know me personally. They know every dollar they send will get there directly to the people.”
Alumni from her alma mater are organizing to rebuild the school’s infrastructure so children can return to class.
“It’s not safe right now because all this galvanized iron is flying all over the place,” Norma said.
“I have another niece from Manila. She works for Toyota Philippines, and she’s been getting donations and sending care packages that go directly to my hometown. We have family and friends who want to be a part of it.
“There is a true need.”
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.org
HOW TO HELP
To help Norma Menard with efforts to aid people in her hometown in the Philippines: PHONE: 564-5332 EMAIL: email@example.com