Seven Church members died during a catastrophic tropical storm that hit the southern Philippines island of Mindanao in the early hours of Dec. 17. Cyclone Washi, known in the Philippines as Sendong, dumped large amounts of rain, triggered flooding and landslides, and caused widespread destruction and hundreds of deaths. As of press time, five Latter-day Saints in the Philippines remained missing.
The storm — the worst to hit the Philippines in the past two years — impacted more than 150,000 people in two major cities — Cagayan De Oro and Iligan, according to government reports. In total, at least 680 deaths are confirmed, more than 800 people are missing, at least 5,000 homes have been severely damaged or destroyed, an estimated 45,000 individuals are staying in evacuation centers, and there is significant damage to agriculture and infrastructure in the country. No missionaries were injured in the storm.
"The members in the affected areas who I met seem to be in high spirits despite the tragedy," said Elder Benson Misalucha, an Area Seventy and Philippines Area Welfare Manager. "Around the country, we are getting calls from priesthood leaders and members who want to donate whatever they can and volunteer their services. As in times of disasters past, our Filipino members are hopeful and positive."
Elder Misalucha reported that 45 member homes were destroyed, with another 90 partially damaged. In the days after the cyclone struck, 79 member families sought refuge in seven Latter-day Saint meetinghouses.
"Rains from Typhoon Sendong overflowed the rivers and brought walls of water as high as 12 to 20 feet in some areas," he said. "Many homes of light materials simply were washed away."
He said the water supply in the impacted cities, including Cagayan De Oro, is not expected to return for a month.
In addition, "funeral parlors have stopped accepting bodies and many of the dead are now lying on the streets. There is a great need for all basic necessities."
Elder Misalucha said among the Church members who died in the disaster is the 1-year-old son of President Elmer B. Owayas, first counselor in the Iligan Philippines Stake presidency, and his wife, Narife Morin D. Owayas. President and Sister Owayas were in Cebu on a temple trip when they learned their child had drowned. Still, they "were eager to be of assistance to those who were suffering," Elder Mislucha said.
LDS Welfare personnel are in the Cagayan De Oro area working with local priesthood and community leaders to provide assistance and seek solutions for continuing relief efforts, he said. Members of the Malaybalay Philippines District and the Butuan Philippines Stake, for example, "have already gathered clothes and other useful items and trucked them to Cagayan De Oro. I met several of our members volunteering in the evacuation centers and with the Red Cross. Many have offered their prayers and faith for those who have lost family and homes."