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Manila's Christians Use Facebook for Disaster Reports


Thursday, 9 p.m., CDT. Christianity Today news received this eye-witness, first person account from a Christian leader in Manila, where local officials are still counting the dead from the lethal weekend typhoon Ketsana:

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By Rheea Hermoso-Prudente, Manila, Philippines.

Rain—even the kind that drums incessantly on our galvanized iron roofs with a deafening beat for days on end—is no big deal in the Philippines. Floods are also taken in stride. So Ketsana's persistent downpour didn't cause any alarm. We just expected the usual traffic and the usual flooding in the usual areas.

Then came status updates on Facebook, from friends not in the normal flood areas. "Our basement is flooded. Water is chest-high. Goodbye car!" "For the first time in 30 years my lola's house in Merville is flooded!" "Trapped in our house in Makati."

Pictures and videos appeared next: chocolate-colored water rampaging through trendy Eastwood City; the pedestrian underpass in the central business district of Makati, filled to street level with water; a van slowly sucked down a vortex on Katipunan; drenched families huddled together on the roofs of their houses, raging river just a foot below; people everywhere else, struggling through chest-to-neck-deep water, holding their bags and their babies aloft. The speed of the events blindsided everyone.

Calamities, like rain and floods, are nothing new in the Philippines. But Ketsana was wreaking havoc just a few kilometers from us, on people we know; people who worked, had fellowship, had fun with us. For the first time—for my generation of youngish urbanites at least—a calamity struck so close to home. Or in some cases, struck our homes.

I could only imagine the terror my friend, her husband and young son felt as they watched the water rise rapidly inside their house while they struggled to push their door open, against the raging current outside. My other friend went to work that morning and left her baby and nanny in their home in Marikina. By afternoon, she lost contact with them. What desperation she must have felt, knowing that their village was submerged, yet not knowing what happened to her family.

My husband, daughter and I, though trapped in our subdivision, were safe and dry. We could only monitor updates online with a growing sense of helplessness and worry.

Yet from the disaster emerged stories of courage, sacrifice and hope. Stories of how an 18-year old man saved 30 lives before losing his own. Of a young man, trying to save his belongings, took his neighbors to safety instead. Of families opening their homes to total strangers, sharing what little food they had left.

The outpouring of aid happened quickly as well. As rapidly as disaster updates spread through Facebook, so did updates on how and where to help. Victory Christian Fellowship in The Fort (www.victoryfort.org), where we attend, had a relief operations center up by the evening of Saturday. Other Victory Christian Fellowships around the metro, and other churches too, had their own relief programs.

It amazes me, this resilience and generosity of the Filipinos that come out in times of great need. If you listen to stories of the victims, yes, they talk about their loss. Mostly, they speak of hope.

In the aftermath of Ketsana, I stand with my fellow Filipinos as we praise Him in the storm.

Click here for a powerful slide show of the devastation.

Christianity Today editors have received a number of reports from mission agencies in the region. ACTION Philippines reports:

As of September 30, there are 304 dead and almost 400,000 sheltered in schools, churches and evacuation centers. At least 1.9 million people have been adversely affected one way or another.

Our team is already exhausted. I wish I had space to tell you the stories of things our people are going through. Many were stranded for one or two nights at the airport, in a shopping mall, at a school, at other people's homes, in cars on the road, on the top floors of their homes.

Several on our team had flooding in their homes. In fact, one missionary's home had water in it 12 feet high. At least three of our staff had their homes flooded. Many of the Filipino pastors we work with have lost everything.

For those of us who were not affected, we have been intensely involved in helping those who were. Since Saturday our apartment has served as a disaster relief headquarters (we have been handling communications both locally and internationally), a house of prayer, and place of hospitality. We have been very fortunate that our power and communication tools have remained working. Since our apartment is on the 10th floor of a sturdy building, we personally have been unaffected.

Since Sunday morning until now I have been working the phones and crunching numbers as we trust the Lord for a minimum of $38,000 for relief operations over the next several days. By Friday, October 2nd, we need to make a payment of $29,032 for an order of supplies we placed. We are trusting God for a miracle.

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