While the community of Good Samaritan Sisters in Bacolod City experienced some of Typhoon Haiyan’s strength, they were spared the extreme force that ravaged the Central Philippines.
Situated on Negros Island in the Western Visayas region, Bacolod City was within the range of the super typhoon, but protected by the surrounding mountain ranges.
Brisbane-based Sister Bernardina Sontrop, who is currently visiting her Good Samaritan Sisters in Bacolod City, said heavy rain and wind began on Thursday afternoon, November 7, and reached a peak late Friday morning, November 8, when power, water and communications were cut off.
“The typhoon made landfall on the north of Negros Island, some 60 kilometres north-west of Bacolod at midday. Category three winds (150 to 185 kilometres per hour) and torrential rain continued to batter Bacolod from mid-morning till mid-afternoon, with five inches recorded in that time,” she explained.
“It was frustrating not knowing what was happening, and conversation went back and forth around our concerns for the well-being of those in the direct path of the typhoon and speculation about what might happen as the storm raged.”
It wasn’t until three days later that reports filtered through to Bacolod of the devastating loss of life and destruction of towns and villages in the typhoon’s path.
Filipina Sister Grace Marcelo learnt that her relatives on Panay Island, some 200 kilometres east of Bacolod, were safe but among the 90 per cent of people there who had lost their homes, crops and livelihoods.
“I felt very horrified when I first see the aftermath of the typhoon, seeing the images in the news,” she said.
Grace felt frustrated that she couldn’t personally help those affected by the typhoon. “The moment I saw the photos, I wanted to go there and support the people. But that doesn’t happen that way.”
A positive outcome of this catastrophe for Grace is seeing “the resilience of the Filipino people and the bayanihan (communal work), wherein people go out and help each other”.
The scale of the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) is still unfolding. Current reports suggest around 4,000 people have been killed and over 12,000 injured. Thousands of homes and community infrastructure has been annihilated, leaving nearly four million people displaced. The hardest hit areas are without water, food and electricity.
“One of our frustrations is a sense of helplessness,” said Sister Anne Dixon, who arrived in Bacolod from Melbourne early this year.
“The need is so great. Yet because of distance and the difficulty of accessing the worst affected areas, we can do so little from where we are. We are keeping our ear to the ground and will do what we can to help the people with whom we work.
“The typhoon will have a long-term effect on the emotional and physical well-being of the people, especially those who have family members and friends whose lives have been devastated.”
Filipina Sister Germia Tocama is grateful to the Australian Government for its quick response to the needs of the Filipino people.
“I’ve heard that Australia was one of the first countries who responded to this disaster by means of sending monetary funds. This is already a great help and consolation to our people.
“We deeply appreciate if different agencies can continue in doing this and we continually ask for your prayers,” she said.
The Good Samaritan Sisters have ministered in Bacolod since 1990. Though small in number, the community is a vibrant mix of Filipina, Japanese and Australian sisters who are involved in community development initiatives in Bacolod City and nearby rural areas.
Among their ministries they run the Good Samaritan Kinder School, provide school scholarships, visit local squatter settlements, offer pastoral care to those in prison, and support children’s feeding programs and subsidised transport ventures.
The Sisters of the Good Samaritan have launched an appeal in response to Typhoon Haiyan. While the Congregation can’t provide tax deductible receipts, be assured that all donations will be sent to the Good Samaritan Sisters in Bacolod to support local relief efforts.
Please send donations to: “Sisters of the Good Samaritan Typhoon Haiyan Appeal”, Good Samaritan Sisters, PO Box 876 Five Dock NSW 2046.