.- In the devastating wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Caritas, a relief agency of the Church, has rushed to support victims through the distribution of food and first aid materials.
“The devastation is awful and the situation is outrageously bad at the moment,” said Gilda Avedillo, program officer for Caritas Manila’s disaster risk reduction and management program.
Avedillo told CNA on Nov. 11 that basic food items, as well as non-food items such as clothing and medicine, are on “priority” rush and that “efforts are underway for speedy distribution.”
On Nov. 8, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, struck the island nation with sustained winds of 147 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 170 miles per hour, the BBC reported.
The strong winds led to flash flooding and landslides, and destroyed many homes and other buildings. Some areas saw 45-foot waves and more than 15 inches of rain.
The typhoon mowed down buildings, trees and crops, with flood waters washing away entire towns. Tacloban, one of worst-hit cities, has a number of large ships run ashore by the storm.
Some 10,000 people are believed to have died from the storm, with 600,000 displaced. More than nine million are affected, lacking shelter, food, or potable water.
Caritas' relief efforts are being conducted through volunteers with both diocesan and parish teams.
Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu encouraged his people, highlighting their faith in the midst of trials.
“No typhoon or flood can diminish the strength of Filipino soul,” he said, nor can it “quench the fire of our hope.”
The Filipino bishops' conference declared a nationwide novena of prayer from Nov. 11-19 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, as well as of the earthquake that struck the central Philippines last month.
While Caritas' 150 volunteers in Manila are packing, collecting, and coordinating the relief efforts, victims' needs are “increasingly demanding,” as many people have lost their belongings, Avedillo said.
According to the Diocese of San Jose de Antique, 60 percent of houses in the Antique province are completely or partially damaged, and power is unavailable.
A survivor, Rosette Bernardo, told CNA that her family's crops and plantation were “destroyed completely,” but thanked God that her family members had been rescued and were safe.
Avedillo said several challenges lay ahead for relief efforts, the roads in some areas have been destroyed or blocked, and electricity and communication systems have been cut off.
Other challenges are health related, with improper sanitation increasing the risk of “spread of epidemics” with contamination, diarrhea and infestation of mosquitoes.
“It is sad that there have been reported instances of people mobbing, rioting and looting shops and shopping centers due to hunger and an inadequate supply of food,” said Avedillo.
The U.S. has sent 90 Marines and Navy servicemen to assist in relief efforts, as well as supplies of food, water, and materials for shelter and hygiene.
On Nov. 11, the storm made landfall in northern Vietnam, with sustained winds of up to 85 miles per hour, and it is moving in the direction of southern China.
On Sunday, Pope Francis sent Filipinos a message of prayer and encouragement, saying at his Angelus address, “I want to assure the people of the Philippines and of that region who were struck by the terrible typhoon of my closeness.”
“Let us pray a moment in silence, to the Madonna, for these our brothers and sisters,” he exhorted, and “let us try also to reach out to them with practical help.”