Denise Panaligan turned on the television Saturday morning and saw images of Typhoon Haiyan for the first time.
The third-year biology student from Leyte province in the Philippines, saw her hometown destroyed.
“I saw basically everything I know gone,” Panaligan said. “There’s nothing left. I don’t even know if the people I grew up with are still alive.”
Panaligan had spoken with her mother’s half-sister, Dailyn Arena, on the phone last week. Panaligan and Arena are the same age and grew up together like sisters. Now Arena is one of the thousands reported missing.
“She’s 20 years old. That could have been me,” Panaligan said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet.”
Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon Yolanda, ripped through the Philippines and Vietnam for several days last week, flattening villages and causing mass destruction. Media reports claim that several thousand are dead and hundreds of thousands have been left homeless.
The families of several UCLA students from the Philippines and Vietnam were torn apart by the typhoon and UCLA students are mobilizing to help by collecting donations and hosting benefit events.
The UCLA Mabuhay Collective and its branch groups, including Samahang Pilipino and Pilipinos for Community Health, are hosting a benefit talent show. Justine Pascual, a third-year human biology and society student and president of Samahang Pilipino, said monetary donations are preferred.
Samahang Pilipino, the Vietnamese Student Union and the American Red Cross at UCLA have all been collecting donations on Bruin Walk. The Vietnamese Student Union is also currently selling small jars for students to use to collect donations, said Anthony Phan, a third-year political science student.
Chancellor Gene Block encouraged students in an email to donate to the American Red Cross and other organizations assisting in the relief effort.
Arena was working at a hotel in the Philippines when the typhoon hit. She had decided to spend the night at the hotel because it provides lodging for employees and she thought it would be too windy to leave, Panaligan said.
Although the hotel employees received evacuation notices, she might not have evacuated on time, Panaligan said. Now, the hotel is being used as a refuge for individuals who are displaced. Almost all the other employees are accounted for.
“I feel like in my heart I know that she’s safe. … I know she’s alive. But now I just want proof,” Panaligan said.
Panaligan and her family are constantly checking databases that give information about missing persons. Panaligan’s family has appeared on talk shows to ask viewers to help find Arena, Panaligan’s step-grandmother, and other friends and family. Panaligan said she gets panic attacks thinking about the situation. Google’s Person Finder is available for those looking for information about family members and friends.
Phan has more than 15 family members in Vietnam’s Thua Thien-Hue Province. Although he knows they intended to evacuate, he said he has been unable to contact them since the typhoon hit.
“I don’t know the status of them right now, which is really frustrating,” Phan said.
He said he was hit with feelings of fear, shock and horror when he first heard about the typhoon.
“When I saw (Typhoon Haiyan) on the news I would see pictures of people just floating … and I was thinking, that could be my family,” Phan said.
Before the typhoon, Jaro, Panaligan’s neighborhood in Leyte, was a small, tightly knit community. Panaligan and her family, like many residents in the area, lived in a straw nipa hut. Most people made a living through farming or taking care of livestock.
Although she has not visited Jaro in nine years, Panaligan said she remembers that families in her village would come together to dance, play music and cook food.
“People were happy,” Panaligan said. “It (was) a very simple lifestyle.”
Now, the Philippines has been devastated.
“There’s nothing but ruins. The houses are gone. There’s just a tangled mess of debris, fallen trees and wood from houses,” said Ingrid Biso, a fourth-year biology student who grew up in Manila, Philippines.
“When I first found out, I prayed,” Biso said.
A wall of water crashed down on the town, and her uncle, the mayor of Bugasong in Antique, Philippines, was helpless against protecting others from the natural disaster, Biso said.
Another one of Biso’s relatives lost her home in the typhoon.
“It will take years (for the Philippines) to recover,” she said.
Biso said her uncle, Bernard Pesayco, was terrified after the typhoon because he was supposed to take care of his town, but felt so helpless.
“He kind of teared up a bit and felt really heartbroken because he knows that when they get back (there will be) nothing. They’re not going to find anything there,” Biso said.
Her uncle was able to help evacuate at least hundreds of families along the coast, Biso said. He also tried to get food for at least 4,000 families in the evacuation center.
“I think eventually (the people impacted by Typhoon Haiyan) will get through this. It will take a while though,” Biso said.
Students who are affected by the tragedy can speak with resident advisers, resident directors and the Office of the Dean of Students, who can provide information about support services like Counseling and Psychological Services, where counselors are available 24 hours a day. The UCLA Loan Services Office offers crisis-related emergency loans for those who qualify.