After typhoon struck, a harrowing wait for Pa. couple

At Philly Pinoy, a Filipino grocery in King of Prussia, coowner Rowena David adjusts relief items. There originally was just one box for donations.
At Philly Pinoy, a Filipino grocery in King of Prussia, coowner Rowena David adjusts relief items. There originally was just one box for donations. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 16, 2013

Eight days ago, Gen McIntosh, a 25-year-old Filipina, was living out of a hotel, her possessions in boxes, hunting with her husband for an apartment in Philadelphia's suburbs.

Then came Typhoon Haiyan, the storm that killed thousands and shredded the island of Leyte, where McIntosh's parents and twin sister live.

Dialing day and night, stymied by recorded messages that phone lines were down, McIntosh became frantic after reading about the city of Ormoc, where her family lived: 97 percent destroyed, 27 dead.

"I was crying. I was shaking," she said Thursday. "I wasn't eating because I was so focused on the laptop."

McIntosh used Facebook and e-mail to reach out to her network of overseas Filipinos. She registered with the emergency family tracing center of the American Red Cross.

For days, nothing.

At 3 a.m. Monday, about 100 hours after the storm crushed communications networks, McIntosh's phone rang. On the line was her sister, Lenaly.

Two days later, she finally heard her parents' voices. "My mom was crying so hard. I was crying so hard. My dad was also crying. I felt so heartbroken," said McIntosh. "My mom was saying, this is like her second life."

A week after Haiyan rained havoc on the eastern Philippines, the nation's main disaster response agency on Friday raised the death toll to 3,621. Most of the casualties occurred on Leyte and Samar Islands. The government also said 1,140 people are missing and more than 12,000 are injured.

An international aid effort was gathering steam, highlighted by the helicopter drops conducted from an American aircraft carrier. But the storm victims moved ahead with or without help.

McIntosh said her sister told her the family rode out the first part of the storm in the small basement of its two-bedroom, lightly constructed house.

Then came the storm's eye, and accompanying calm. Lenaly and her mother, Shirley, and father, Cerilo, came upstairs to the living room. That proved to be a big mistake.

When the back side of the typhoon came through, it collapsed a concrete firewall of the house, blew out the windows, took off the roof, and downed power lines, she said.

The family members had some scratches and bruises, but mostly were scared, McIntosh said. Using a tarpaulin to cover the roof, they are living in what's left of the house awaiting relief.

From Philadelphia, McIntosh used Western Union to wire money to a cousin in the relatively undamaged city of Cebu. The cousin will go by boat to Ormoc to deliver the funds.

"I am just glad they all made it through," said McIntosh's husband, Chris, whose new job at American College in Bryn Mawr led the couple here. "I was pretty much betting on someone not making it."

In signs that relief efforts were picking up, U.S. Navy helicopters flew sorties from the George Washington off the coast, dropping water and food to isolated communities. The U.S. military said it would send about 1,000 more troops along with additional ships and aircraft to join the aid effort.

So far, the U.S. military has moved 190 tons of supplies and flown nearly 200 sorties.

Dave Schrader, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which had been coordinating U.S. requests to locate people who were unaccounted for in the Philippines, said the requests have fallen off dramatically since last weekend.

Calls to the tracing center peaked at about 400 on Tuesday, when the Red Cross in Philadelphia stopped counting them, he said. As of Friday, 231 tracing cases had been opened, but the results weren't clear.

Donors from across the region have been dropping off food and clothes at Philly Pinoy, a Filipino grocery in King of Prussia that has become an unofficial clearinghouse for private relief shipments.

Rowena David, 34, owns the store with her husband, Hayen, 35. They also are local representatives for Atlas Shippers, a company with offices in Manila and around the world.

Last Saturday, the Davids set up an empty 17- by 18- by 28-inch box in the center of the store so customers could donate items as the spirit moved them.

By Thursday, they had to move display racks to make room for nine large boxes that were brimming with cans of bangus, a Filipino fish; 25-pound sacks of rice; cartons of Ramen-style noodles; and gently used clothes for children and adults.

Janet W., 53, a Jenkintown nursing home employee, said in an interview that she was moved to donate. She said she drove out to Philly Pinoy, laid down $300, and asked Rowena David to fill a box with nonperishable food that Filipinos would like.

"Listen, we are our brother's keeper," said Janet, who asked that her last name not be published. "Disaster does not discriminate. I'm black. We are all brothers and sisters. It doesn't matter what color you are. We have to help these people out."

Rowena David said the cost to ship large boxes from Philadelphia to the Philippines is about $75 to $85 a box. Atlas, she said, has agreed to ship free as many as they fill at the end of November.

On Saturday, in the parking lot of Philly Pinoy, 1160 E. DeKalb Pike, the Davids and other families will hold a tag sale, with the proceeds going to typhoon relief.

Gen McIntosh and her husband, exhausted but relieved after a week of high emotion, say they plan to attend.


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541

@MichaelMatza1

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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