TYPHOON HAIYAN: Local Families Trying To Connect With Relatives In The Disaster Zone

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT/CNN) -- As millions of people in the Philippines struggle to deal with what is likely its deadliest natural disaster ever, some families in North Alabama are struggling to connect with their relatives in the disaster zone.

Authorities said at least 2 million people in 41 provinces had been affected by Friday's disaster and at least 23,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. Large areas along the coast had been transformed into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Ships were tossed inland, cars and trucks swept out to sea and bridges and ports washed away.

Gloria Vergara with the Philippine-American Association of Alabama Inc. says several of the group's members have missing relatives in the Philippines who they have not been able to make contact with since the brutal storm hit Friday.

"This tragedy has touched us all in some way, we are just trying to figure out what we can do to help, organizing a local benefit theater fundraiser as we speak and will have those details soon," Vergara told WHNT News 19 Monday.


International aid organizations and governments including the US are scrambling to get resources into the area to start the rescue and recovery operations.

That aid began to flow in Monday. U.N. and U.S. civilian disaster assessment teams were on the scene, as were Japan-based U.S. Marines. The Marines were to outfit the shattered Tacloban airport with lights, radar and other gear to allow it to operate 24 hours a day.


Tacloban, a city of 200,000, was shattered by Haiyan. The storm's tremendous force brought a wall of water roaring off the Gulf of Leyte, leveling neighborhoods of wooden houses, flinging large ships ashore like toys.

"I have not spoken to anyone who has not lost someone, a relative close to them," said Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who narrowly escaped death during the storm's fury. "We are looking for as many as we can."

Interactive map of the storm

The death toll, as reported by the Philippine Armed Forces Central Command, stood at 942 Monday night. But with so much about the storm's impact still unknown, a full accounting of its victims will take time.

"We can give you estimates right now, but none of it will be accurate." Gordon said.

As the United States, Pope Francis and Spain, among other nations, sent aid, Aquino declared a "state of national calamity," which allows more latitude in rescue and recovery operations and gives the government power to set the prices of basic goods.

Authorities are funneling aid on military planes to Tacloban's airport, which resumed limited commercial flights Monday. As aid workers, government officials and journalists came in, hundreds of residents waited in long lines hoping to get out.

The Marines who arrived Monday are the "forward edge" of a broader U.S. effort to aid the Philippines, Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said.

"We're working hand in hand with the Philippines, both with their armed forces and the national police, and we will help them in their need," he said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development was sending emergency shelter materials and basic hygiene supplies to aid 10,000 families as well as 55 metric tons of emergency rations sufficient to feed 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for up to five days.

“What the government and non-governmental agencies are now struggling with is the accessibility of roads so that relief goods can reach the survivors and the medical attention to the wounded and sick,” said Lieut-Colonel Bob Lee of The Salvation Army. ”There is also a possibility of an outbreak of disease.’

Salvation Army and other emergency disaster services personnel are working with the Philippine Airforce to assemble an initial response team that will transport food parcels, water and medical supplies to Tacloban.

At least $100,000 worth of food is already en route from the U.S., the Salvation Army said.Meanwhile, Google launched a website designed to help family members and people in the disaster zone find each other.


Below is a list of some of the organizations that will be assisting in the recovery effort, with links to their sites to explore how they will be assisting, as well as opportunities for you to assist.

Before you donate either your time or money, please be aware that there are always scammers looking to profit on disasters. If you find an organization you are thinking of giving money to, check their credentials at the Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/), which evaluates the financial health and efficiency of more than 5,500 organizations, or at GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), which gathers and disseminates information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization.

*Please note this is not an exhaustive list, and WHNT News 19/ CBS News does not explicitly endorse any of the aid organizations listed below. This list is merely provided as a reference point for those considering donating to relief efforts.

The American Red Cross- Help people affected by the Pacific typhoon by going to redcross.org or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS.  You can also mail in a donation to your local Red Cross Chapter.  For corporate or larger community fundraising events, please contact your local Red Cross Chapter.  Contact information for your local Red Cross can be found at redcross.org.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. They are sending teams to assist in the Philippines.  Their website is here.

Doctors Without Borders works in nearly 70 countries providing medical aid to those most in need regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation, and are always involved in disaster situations with crucial medical care. Their website is here.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. It also provides assistance during natural disasters, and the Philippines Red Cross has already sprung into action to assist families in reconnecting. Their website is here.

The International Medical Corps' Emergency Response Fund is a global, humanitarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through health care training and relief and development programs. They are gathering teams to send to the Philippines. Their website is here.

Save The Children supports children and families around the world affected by disaster. They are currently preparing to assist in the Philippines.  Their website is here.

The United Nations' Childrens' Fund (UNICEF) is currently rushing relief supplies to the region, and says up to four million children could be affected by the disaster. Their website is here.

Mercy Corps is deploying some of their most seasoned emergency responders and will be working with partners on the ground to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of survivors. In the wake of one of the strongest storms in recorded history, families desperately need food, water, shelter and other basic supplies.  Their website is here.

The mGive Foundation is collecting donations from U.S. wireless subscribers, who can text AID to 80108 to give a $10 donation to the organization's Philippines Typhoon Diaster Relief Fund. Charges will appear on the user's wireless bill or will be deducted from a prepaid balance. Text STOP to 80108 to stop or HELP for assistance. Learn more about their donation system here.

World Vision has worked in the Philippines for more than 55 years, and is currently mobilizing nearly 500 staff around the country to respond to assist in the relief effort with food, clean water, hygiene kits, emergency shelter and more.  Their website is here.

The American Jewish World Service, the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, is collecting funds to provide aid on the ground in the Philippines. Their website is here.

The Helping Hand for Relief and Development organization is one of America's highest rated Muslim charities, and has begun collecting donations for their relief efforts. Their website is here.

GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising web site that gives social entrepreneurs and non-profits from anywhere in the world a chance to raise the money that they need to improve their communities.


Meteorologists said it will take further analysis to confirm whether Haiyan -- with gusts reported at first landfall to be up to 235 mph  set a record.

For the devastated areas of the Philippines, the bad weather may not be over. The national weather agency, Pagasa, said Monday a tropical depression was moving toward the southern part of the country.

Far weaker than Haiyan, the weather system is likely to affect mainly the islands of Mindanao and Bohol, which didn't suffer direct hits by the typhoon. But it could bring wind and heavy rain to Tacloban and the surrounding area, making conditions even more hazardous.

Aid workers said the recovery from Haiyan will take many months.

(CBS, CNN and CNN Wire contributed to this report)

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