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Alaska Filipino population unites, raises money in wake of disaster

Tegan Hanlon
Bill Roth

Orlan Paraoan peered at his cellphone on a couch at the Holy Spirit Center, the Catholic retreat on the Hillside. An email hit his inbox from a Filipino in Dutch Harbor inquiring how he could help relief efforts in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines.

It was about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, but Paraoan is careful to note that in the Philippines, on the other side of the International Date line, it was 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.

For many of the more than 19,000 Filipinos living in Alaska, one of the state's largest ethnic groups, the more than 5,000 miles separating the Last Frontier from the devastated Philippines doesn't feel that far.

Since last week, Filipino organizers in Anchorage say they've kept their eyes on the news and hands near their cellphones, inhaling any information about Typhoon Haiyan and its aftermath. They've started email chains, organized donation centers and planned events to collect money and non-perishable items to send back to the islands.

"Everyone's joining together," said the Rev. Luz Flores of the Holy Spirit Center.

Both Flores and Paraoan, active in the Anchorage Filipino community, were born on islands spared by the typhoon. But connecting is still key. Flores provides latest updates daily at Mass.

Flores and Paraoan said they regularly tune into ABS-CBN, a news source based in the Philippines, and read online articles to keep close to the country's pulse.

"I was looking, one by one," Paraoan said about an online photo gallery of the devastation. "I almost stopped in the middle. With so much suffering, especially children, your heart can just take so much."

There's still a lot of unknowns, Paraoan said, especially in Tacloban, a city hit hard by the typhoon, where some estimate 10,000 people may have died.

"The extent of the damages, the extent of the sufferings, they don't know what's happening," Paraoan said.

For some, like Beth Beardsley of Anchorage, the information gap has been a nerve-racking waiting game that started soon after her sister traveled from Alaska to Cebu on Oct. 31.

Beardsley said her sister went to have their family's home appraised. It had been cracked by an earthquake only a few weeks earlier. But plans changed and she found herself evacuating from the house on the coastline to the city with her 74-year-old mother.

Beardsley, secretary with the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, heard the news about the impending typhoon by phone. Then, when the storm hit, communication ended.

"All weekend, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, I was just in tears," Beardsley said.

Her sister eventually found power to charge her phone and called to say they were OK, Beardsley said. She told stories of roads overtaken with debris, missing roofs and coconut trees nearly bent in half.

"She's devastated right now over there," Beardsley said. She said the Philippines are accustomed to typhoons but did not prepare for the massive storm surge Typhoon Haiyan brought with it.

Jesse Vizcocho, formerly on the board of directors with the AFFA, hasn't been as lucky with reaching friends and family.

He received a text message Oct. 22 from a friend who was visiting family in Tacloban. Vizcocho said the friend asked him to grab a meal at Kobu Restaurant in Anchorage upon her return. He hasn't heard from her since, and neither has her husband or two children, he said.

"They're already losing hope," Vizcocho said.

Born on Luzon Island, Vizcocho is sure he has relatives affected by the typhoon, but there's no way of contacting them, he said. So from Alaska, he's raising funds, his best hope of helping.

"I can't just not do anything," he said. "I have to do my part, because we all need one another."

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

How to help

Fundraising efforts in Anchorage include:

The Alaskero Partnership is holding a vigil in the University of Alaska Anchorage student union den at 6 p.m. on Friday. The organization is asking for monetary donations and prayers.

Non-perishable food items, clothing and blankets are being accepted at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, located at 3900 Wisconsin St.

Cash and checks made out to Catholic Relief Services can also be dropped off at Kaladi Brothers Coffee locations at 6927 Brayton Drive and at New Sagaya Midtown, located at 3700 Old Seward Highway. New Sagaya will match donations up to $10,000.

Maharlika, Inc. is hosting "So You Think You Can Give" at the Alaska Dance Theater, 550 E. 33rd Ave., from 3 to 5:10 p.m. on Sunday. Local dance instructors will hold a series of 40-minute dance classes. Donations will go to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Play N Trade, a Midtown gaming store, is hosting a video game tournament and silent auction from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 1. Proceeds will go to typhoon relief efforts. More information can be found at facebook.com/playntrade.alaska.

 


By TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com