Disasters in Philippines touch Homer residents

Yusra Sahi, a Homer High School foreign exchange student from the Philippines, was relieved to learn her family was uninjured by super typhoon Haiyan, a Category 5 with winds exceeding 160 miles per hour. The distance between Sahi and her home country — more than 5,000 miles — seemed greater, however, when Sahi heard about the loss suffered by her close friend, Leah Delacruz, 18.

As the intensity of rain and wind from the approaching typhoon increased, Delacruz grabbed her Bible and cell phone and tied herself to a tree. Three days later, Delacruz discovered she was the only one of her family to survive when the bodies of her siblings, parents and grandparents were found in mud the typhoon left in its wake.

With her cell phone destroyed by the storm, Delacruz managed to borrow a phone and made contact with Sahi. Without a home and with no family to turn to, Delacruz is living in a gymnasium being used as a shelter.  

“I cried for two days. She’s my close friend and I didn’t know how to help her,” said Sahi.

Doing what she can, Sahi has placed a large glass jar on the counter of Homer High’s front office where donations are accumulating for the Philippine Red Cross. 

“I talked to my principal and my teachers and they’re helping me,” said Sahi. 

The school’s student council also is planning a fundraising effort, and Sahi said she is aware of other local activities benefiting the relief effort in her home country.  

One of those efforts takes place at Homer Flex School where the students are inviting the public to a spaghetti lunch from 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday.

“You can make a donation, eat and get educated on what’s going on,” said Jorden Richtback, a junior.

The menu includes spaghetti with meat or meatless sauce, music, and a PowerPoint presentation about the typhoon and relief efforts.

“It’s only a cash donation and we’re giving it to Doctors Without Borders,” said Richtback of the cost of lunch.

Although neither he nor his classmates know anyone impacted by the typhoon, Richtback said it was “one of the biggest natural disasters” of his time and the students “decided to do something about it.”

The typhoon was the second of two natural disasters to hit the Philippines in the last two months. At 8 a.m. Oct. 15, a 7.1 earthquake shook the islands, its epicenter only 6-8 miles away from where Berna and Nathaniel Brown, a mother and son from Homer, were visiting family. The Browns returned to Homer on Tuesday.

“It was pretty rough,” said Nathaniel Brown, recalling the screaming he heard as people scrambled for higher ground immediately following the quake, concerned about a possible tsunami.

Resulting aftershocks numbered more than 1,000.

“We have earthquakes here, but it was nothing like that. The earthquakes here shake from side to side. That one was up and down. It was traumatizing.”

Fortunately, no one in his family was hurt, but the two-story house they were staying in was “pretty much destroyed,” said Brown. For shelter, the family set up a tent in the front yard.

With roads demolished and services cut off, relief efforts took awhile to reach them. 

“At first everything was closed down and everyone kind of panicked and wanted to keep everything to themselves,” said Brown. “Once we were able to get supplies, we bought bags of rice and distributed it to some of the villages.” 

Then heavy rains hit, causing flooding.

“We had to shovel a bunch of mud,” said Brown. 

Following the earthquake, Becky Pfeill, owner of Timeless Toys and Brown’s aunt, donated 10 percent of the stores Nov. 9 proceeds to Philippine Red Cross. 

By the time Typhoon Haiyan began approaching the Philippines, a new frame house that had been under construction prior to the earthquake was completed to the point that it offered shelter and “we were able to hunker down in it,” said Brown.

Although not near the center of the typhoon, Brown said the winds that swept across that part of the country still ranged from 95-130 miles per hour.

“The damage was pretty minimal for the island we were living on,” he said. “Some of the surrounding islands, they were the ones that got hit pretty hard. We were pretty fortunate.”

On Nov. 26, Dave and Ruby Nofziger of Homer head to the Philippines. Their destination is Macatbong United Methodist Church, about 100 miles north of Manila and 500-600 miles north of where the typhoon struck. They will be traveling with Justin Thomas and Janice Hamrick of the United Methodist Church in Sitka. The trip is a result of encouragement from former Homer United Methodist Church pastor Fred Agtarap of the Philippines.

“He encouraged us to have a team of people go over and interact with them, learn to know them, learn from them and possibly do work with them,” said Dave Nofziger. “This is sort of a fact-finding mission and a chance to learn to know them and what the conditions are there, to learn about life and hopefully to share.”

The earthquake and typhoon have not caused the Nofzigers to have second thoughts about making the trip. In fact, they have only added to the couple’s desire to make the journey.

“Pastor Fred said in an email that we’re needed now more than ever because of the encouragement and the fact that people here are interested in them,” said Nofziger.

In preparation for the trip, representatives of Homer’s Filipino community recently provided a potluck lunch for the Homer United Methodist Church.

“If nothing else comes from this whole project than that we’ve had that additional interaction, then it’s been worthwhile,” said Nofziger.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.