The minute Josephine Fernandez heard about Typhoon Haiyan's devastation of the Philippines, she knew people there would be without food and water.
Fernandez is from Borongan City, a sprawling town on the very eastern edge of Samar, the third-largest island in the Philippines, a nation of more than 7,000 islands in the south Pacific. Her village is about 40 miles east of the hardest hit area of Tacloban.
She said her town is sort of a typhoon early-warning system for the entire country -- and in the area that turbulent storms typically hit first.
"That's the first one of the towns that's hit by the typhoon in the Philippines, and we usually have around 20 every single year," said Fernandez, who lives in Fridley.
The most recent storm, which struck in early November, has been described as one of the deadliest natural disasters ever. With winds of up to 170 miles an hour and a storm surge that pushed sea waters to 20 feet, it killed thousands and caused enormous damage.
After the storm, Fernandez found a way to send $600 to trusted sources in the Philippines to buy supplies for people in her home town, including her elderly mother and siblings. The money likely fed up as many as 60 families for about three days.
Fernandez, 54, hasn't returned to the Philippines since 2006. She'd rather use the money she would spend on airfare to buy food and medicine for her mother, relatives and friends. But as the storm knocked out telephone service, it's been hard to learn how her family is doing, and she is increasingly worried, though she has heard through second or third parties that no one in their village died.
'THEY SHOULD BE OK'
Tomorrow, Fernandez leaves on a personal typhoon relief mission. After a nearly 20-hour flight to Manila in the north of the country, she'll travel south by bus across islands for several days in blazing tropical heat.
"I assume they are foraging by themselves and they should be OK," Fernandez said hopefully. "They should be OK."
Fernandez, who came to the United States 20 years ago, is uncertain. Her typhoon memories are from her childhood. She recalls the excitement of missing school -- and plenty of food available before and after a storm.
"There are falling fruits on the ground, falling young coconut, and there's so much food because people would slaughter their pigs and chickens and everything; otherwise they'll be blown away," she recalled. "We have so much food, we eat everything."
But those early memories have been replaced by the recognition of a new reality. In the two decades since Fernandez left her homeland, the typhoons that hit the Philippines have changed.
"They have become stronger and more devastating," she said. "There were no flooding in my hometown before but now there is flash flooding as they call it."
Since the latest typhoon, many of the estimated 15,600 Filipino-Americans in Minnesota have organized fund raising and relief missions. The Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association is staging supplies near the typhoon area for a medical mission by members later.
TO STAY, OR GO?
Fernandez, who was trained in the Philippines as a medical doctor, is torn about the trip.
Although she doesn't practice medicine in Minnesota, she knows the need for medical help on her home island will grow as diseases start to spread. She also knows that she could stay in Minnesota and raise needed dollars, by far the most important form of aid.
"I'm here in the U. S. some of my friends are telling me that maybe I just shouldn't go back, I [should] just stay here because when I am here somehow from time to time," Fernandez said. "I can help out and send them money from time to time."
She's also worried that money raised to help relief efforts could go to corrupt officials. Just before the typhoon hit, the people of the Philippines watched as an official investigation brought a huge new corruption scandal to light at the very highest levels of government as politicians and others siphoned off money intended for roads and other improvements.
The country also has been plagued by a series of unsolved assassinations of mining opponents, anti-corruption activists and labor organizers documented by human rights organizations.
Fernandez isn't expecting trouble, but as a former community organizer in the Philippines she knows political oppression is common and law enforcement is uneven. Both she and her husband, Eleazar, a Philippines native and professor at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, are members of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines. Fernandez said the church is viewed by some in the government as a bunch of troublemakers.
"I'm just following the Jesus path," she said. "But, yes, the government would call us leftists once you talk against corruption and exploitation and repression then you will be labeled a communist."
HOW TO HELP
The Cultural Society of Filipino-Americans in Minnesota will hold a fundraising event from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday(Nov. 24) at Guardian Angels Catholic Church, 8260 4th Street, Oakdale, Minn.