Though the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a world away, it felt close to home for Forsyth County resident Annaliza Thomas.
Thomas, executive director of Literacy Forsyth, has family in Manila, which is north of the hardest-hit city of Tacloban.
“They were affected by the rain, but as far as the typhoon, they were not as affected,” she said. “They were able to check emails and send messages to all of us letting us know they were OK.”
Thomas was grateful her family was safe, but also sad to see the country again fall victim to nature.
“The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world,” she said. “They regularly have typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, volcanic eruptions. So the country is as equipped as a developing country can be for these things.
“But seeing the storm approaching the country, it was pretty evident that it was going to be a terrible disaster.”
The American Red Cross has begun relief efforts to assist the 4.3 million people across 36 provinces impacted by the disaster. More than 1,200 evacuation centers are housing more than 330,000 people left homeless by the storm, according to the organization.
The death toll, expected to top 2,000 this week, likely will continue to climb for weeks as more bodies are unearthed in the cleanup effort. Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Tacloban’s office, said in a statement that the area has been “totally ravaged."
"Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off,” Sujobert said. “People here need every type of aid."
Thomas is no stranger to relief efforts. She spent 2010 and ’11 in Manila, working with an international non-governmental organization in partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps, Red Cross and other organizations on disaster relief mitigation.
Among other projects, she researched food security and residents’ daily consumption to aid in disaster preparation.
“This was in metro Manila, but the practices we took from the study, they applied throughout the country,” she said. “These are people who typically take in very few calories a day ... and these are very extensive cleanup crews.
The country, she said, is impoverished with little to no way out. But after a natural disaster, even those who survived the typhoon face more challenges.
“These are people who typically take in very few calories a day and many of them are involved in very extensive cleanup crews to help get out the mud and the rocks and the debris,” she said. “So they’re doing a lot of physical work and there’s not very much food available.”
The American Red Cross is asking for donations to help with the relief effort. Money can be donated specifically to help in the Philippines. And that money is crucial, Thomas said.
“Without international aid, the countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific would never be able to recover from the amount of disasters that hit those countries regularly,” she said. “They’re paramount.”