Filipinos in New Jersey await word on relatives

 Filipino children play as houses damaged by Typhoon Haiyan are seen in the background in Marabut, Philippines, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. (Dita Alangkara/AP Photo, file)

Filipino children play as houses damaged by Typhoon Haiyan are seen in the background in Marabut, Philippines, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. (Dita Alangkara/AP Photo, file)

Filipinos in the United States are watching anxiously as authorities assess the damages wrought by Typhoon Haiyan last week. It’s feared that as many as 10,000 people may have perished in one of the strongest storms on record.

Haiyan devastated the center of the island nation when its 20-foot storm surge roared through the country Friday.

Edith Matela, a Cherry Hill resident, has not heard from her family in Alangalang, about 80 miles northeast of the hardest hit city, Tacloban, whose images have flooded the news.

Communications infrastructure has been destroyed and Matela said she hasn’t been able to reach anyone in the area.

“So far I’m just praying that everybody will be OK,” Matela said. “I’m so worried, but I can’t do anything except watch the TV and try to find out if maybe I’ll see somebody who I knew. I’ll be happy I guess — if I see them I know they’re OK.”

She has reached her nephew in the city of Cebu, which was partly spared by the storm, as he bgan walking toward Alangalang. Matela said there are dozens of people originally from the area now living in New Jersey, New York and Virginia, all waiting for him to call and report on what he finds there.

About 100,000 Filipinos, one of the largest concentrations in the United States, live in New Jersey.

Senen Fontanilla, president of the Philippine Community of Southern New Jersey, said the organization is starting to raise money to help with the immediate recovery.

“A few organizations who have Christmas parties scheduled in the next few weeks are basically cancelling their Christmas parties and saying let’s save the money, send it there,” Fontanilla said.

Later on, he said, they’ll organize collections of the things people will need in the long term — bed sheets, clothing, kitchen utensils, but right now they don’t have any houses.

Filipino-Americans have unfortunately had experience raising funds after natural disasters.

Yves Nibungco said Filipino youth coalition Anakbayan is part of Bayanihan Relief, a network launched after Tropical Storm Ketsana swept through the storm-exposed nation in 2009.

“It really pushed our community to really step up and mobilize relief,” he said.

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