Multi-American

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Typhoon Haiyan: Local Filipino community desperate for news about survivors

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After days of dreading bad news about what Typhoon Haiyan did to her family, and hours spent scouring YouTube and Filipino newspapers for any clues, Virgie Lyons got the call.

Her brother had traveled for an hour outside of disaster-hit Tacloban in the Philippines, searching for a cell phone signal. He finally got through on Sunday night to tell her their close relatives had survived.

But the Eagle Rock shop owner detected a catch in her brother's voice. She asked him what was wrong.  He told her his 17-year-old daughter had died, her body found floating in the water.

"For about five seconds, I can't breathe," Lyons said.

There are still few working lines of communication to the Philippines, but they're starting to open up, and with the arrival of news comes both relief and heartbreak. 

RELATED: Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda: How to find loved ones, donate and volunteer (FAQ, video)

As many as 10,000 people are feared dead in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the mid-section of the Philippines on Friday, buffeting the archipelago and its many islands with 147-mph winds.

Reaching the worst-affected areas by phone or the Internet is still near-impossible, making Filipino-Americans' search for relatives feel futile.

Joel Jacinto of the community outreach group, The Search to Involve Pilipino Americans or SIPA, said that people can do little but share their worries online.

"On my social media feed, there are dozens of stories of 'I lost an uncle,' 'I lost a relative,' 'I can't find my relative,'" Jacinto said.

Jacinto said that "we are in a crisis mode of not being able to know, which is very disempowering."

Relief organizations are also hamstrung by the shattered communication infrastructure. But the American Red Cross has posted on its website that within the next few days, it's activating a family-tracing service.   Telecommunications specialists will travel to the affected areas with a satellite system in search of survivors.
 
Other grass-roots efforts are taking shape. Tony Lagman operates Radio Filipino USA, a web radio project out of Tustin. With the help of a local freelancer, he’s hoping he can do a live broadcast tonight from the typhoon-struck area of Leyte.
 
“As a matter of fact, I have one request that I will air tonight, regarding one person who is looking for his relative as he's had no communication whatsoever," Lagman said. 

For Lyons, knowing how her family is doing allows her to make a plan to help them. After hearing from her brother, she contacted a dozen relatives around the US, and together they collected more than $400 to wire to the Philippines.

But she had to fight back tears knowing she couldn't help the niece she lost.  

"Next year she was going to finish high school and we were planning to bring her here," Lyons said. "But now I cannot bring her here because she's gone."

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