By David Cruz
The devastation is total. The death toll that could reach more than 10,000. Typhoon Haiyan leveled much of Tacloban, the capital of the Leyte province. Over 8,500 miles away, family and friends in Jersey City wait to hear from loved ones, but there is no telephone service and the pictures are grim.
“My Goodness. I cannot imagine what happened to them. The families. The lost families. Lives, you know,” said Jersey City resident George Gabriel.
There are more than 100,000 Filipinos in New Jersey. Jersey City is home to the state’s largest concentration, and since the storm hit last week, they have been organizing to help. Helen Castillo talks with fellow Filipinos at the JolliBee, a popular chain restaurant in the Philippines — with an outlet here.
“Communications are down so we really don’t know what extent of the damage is. But There are people in a town that has been brought to the ground and there are people asking for food, water. They haven’t eaten for like four days,” Castillo said.
Most of Jersey’s Filipinos are from the northern end of the islands, but many have family in the central region where the devastation is most severe. All this as the country is still recovering from a devastating earthquake just last month.
“It’s heart wrenching, it’s devastong it’s gut wrenching. We feel so bad for our countrymen. But our families are OK. They’re fine. They lost power. We haven’t reached them for like a day but they’re fine, thank god,” said Jersey City resident Maricar Estiler. When asked if she feels lucky, Estiler said, “Very lucky. I shouldn’t say this. But we are lucky. As I said we just feel bad for the other folks.”
Councilman Rolando Lavarro is helping to coordinate relief efforts with the Philippine Consulate in New York and with the Red Cross.
“I think the challenge is just trying to find if your loved ones are safe and the lack of communication and information about that,” Lavarro said.
While they make plans for a local fundraiser, Castillo says the Red Cross is the best way you can help immediately.
Christian Javier is marking Veterans Day today. He’s retired U.S. Army. He saw some of the devastation during Hurricane Katrina. He says his thoughts today are with those on the island.
“You know, when I see somebody, anybody, that needs help, I won’t even think twice,” Javier said.
There will be a fundraiser at Porto-Lounge on Thursday. It is the first of several such events planned as this community struggles to come to terms with a tragedy and mobilizes to help those most affected by it.