The effects of Super Typhoon Haiyan hit close to home for West Allis resident Belinda Tenorio. The Filipino immigrant hails from Tacloban, an oceanside city just southeast of Manila. Her hometown was one of the hardest hit by the typhoon, and Tenorio did not know the fate of many of her family members until several days ago.
“It’s been a lot of sleepless nights lately,” she said. “It’s just a pain, watching the news – it’s like, oh my God, I kept crying. We know the place. It’s my country … I get goosebumps.”
Tenorio came to the United States in 1989 and many of her family members live here as well, but she has countless relatives and loved ones in the Philippines. She was relieved to find out almost a week after the Nov. 8 typhoon that her brother and two sisters, who still live in Tacloban, are alive, though stranded without food and electricity.
She is still unsure of the fate of two nieces and a nephew, but she prays they are alive.
“It’s very, very difficult, because with seeing in the news, videos, photos, you know – you already hurt when you see this,” she said. “And we can’t do anything. We have lots of food here, but you cannot just send it. My sisters and my brother (in the Philippines), they have only two weeks’ food supply more to go.
Ways to help
Dinner for a Cause to raise funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan will be held Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Philippine Center, 3717 W. Howard Ave., Greenfield. The evening will begin with a 3 p.m. Mass, followed by dinner, catered by Cebu Restaurant, at 4 p.m. Reservations required by Tuesday, Nov. 26, (414) 423-0901 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information: visit philippinecenter.com. The Philippine Cultural and Civic Center is also accepting checks for relief efforts, which can be mailed to the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund 535 N. 27th St., Milwaukee, Wis., 53208. To make a donation through the Sisters of the Divine Savior, visit sistersofthedivinesavior.org or call (414) 466-7414.
“You pray and you just have to just be positive, I guess. They’re saying ‘Yes, we survived the storm, but will we survive the thirst and hunger?’”
CNN reported that as of Nov. 18, the death toll in the Philippines was at 3,976, with almost 1,600 missing. Casualties in Tacloban alone are estimated to number in the hundreds, and uncollected dead bodies clog the streets.
Tenorio counts her relatives as lucky, because their cars still run and her nephews can make the four-hour trek to buy gasoline and food if need be. Most others have to make the journey on foot, passing through horrific scenes as they do.
“You see too many dead bodies in the street, not being touched. The smell, and everything – and there’s no food. No water at all,” said Tenorio.
Tenorio’s brother and sister-in-law have traveled to Tacloban to assist devastated relatives and look after their farm there. They took as much food for family members as their four pieces of luggage could carry, but had to pay exorbitant airfare – more than $4,000 apiece – and had to fly into another city and then travel several hours to reach Tacloban.
The close-knit family has spent a lot of time together praying, said Tenorio, as well as attending Mass daily. Tenorio’s sisters are parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Milwaukee, and she belongs to St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee. The power of prayer, she said, is her only method of helping devastated family members so far away.
“My first cousin’s home – they have a two-story house on the beach – they did not know that this thing was happening,” she said.
The typhoon took her cousin and her family by surprise, and they were stranded on an upper level of their home, clinging to an image of Mother Teresa as the waters rose.
Tenorio has not been to her homeland since 2007, and says she wishes she had the ability to return to help out. But with three children in high school and one in college, she has too many obligations here in Milwaukee. Her husband, Angelito, passed away suddenly from a heart attack on Jan. 26, 2013, and she and her children hope to return to the Philippines to lay his ashes to rest.
“When it rains, it pours,” said Tenorio. “But we have so much support from the Filipino community, from St. Matthias, from Marquette (University High School, where two of her sons are students). People are always checking on us, so it’s nice, it’s very nice – I appreciate it.”
Tenorio is participating in the efforts of the Milwaukee Filipino community to provide relief to their homeland. On Dec. 1, the Philippine Cultural and Civic Foundation (PCCCF) is hosting Dinner for a Cause at Zablocki Hall in Greenfield; all proceeds will benefit the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
Typhoon Haiyan has also affected a religious community with a strong Milwaukee presence. The Sisters of the Divine Savior (also known as the Salvatorians) work in 29 countries on five continents, and sponsor Divine Savior Holy Angels High School on 100th Street and Hadley Terrace Senior Apartments.
In 2006, Filipino Salvatorians established a pre-school in Cebu City, just southwest of Tacloban. The school’s roof was blown off by the typhoon, but the structure itself is sound and all community members unharmed. The school is serving as a shelter and the sisters are functioning as relief workers.
“The sisters are safe but some are still waiting to hear about family members. I think that without electricity, communication is virtually impossible. We’re praying for everybody, not knowing what’s what,” said Jan Penlesky, director of communications for the Salvatorians here in Milwaukee.
“The school is of much more solid construction than many of the homes there are – many of the homes are very lightweight and so some of them just literally blew away.”
Penlesky said that the Salvatorians have established an aid fund through their finance office in Rome, ensuring the money will move quickly to aid the sisters and their relief work in Cebu City. Colleen Jurkiewicz