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Typhoon Haiyan: Former Tacloban residents pray and hit the phones to organize disaster relief (photos)

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The phone keeps ringing at Evelina Cui’s house in Pasadena.  It’s another friend, asking for the latest on Tacloban, her childhood home and the city hardest-hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

"It is really catastrophic destruction," Cui, an administrative assistant at Cal Tech told her friend. "I cannot even watch the TV anymore, because it is so depressing."

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Cui fields a lot of phone calls as a board member of the An Taclobanon Association of Southern California.

Founded in the mid-1980s, the group has nearly 200 active members who come from the coastal city, or have strong familial ties to it.

Hundreds more attend the annual cultural festival the group puts on each year, which draws Taclobanons from across North America to the Los Angeles area.

Cultural organization turns its focus to the relief effort

These days the group is working around the clock on fund-raising and delivering relief supplies. It's also praying for survivors - together. A special mass is being held Wednesday night at the St. Philomena Church in Carson, during which the dead will also be remembered. 

"Because of this devastation, the place of our birth is all gone," Cui said. "They say, it’s a ghost town already. It smells now, because of the dead bodies, left and right."

For those who once lived there, the image of Tacloban before the disaster is very different.

Serving as the capital of the Leyte province, Tacloban boasted a population that surpassed 200,000 people and it had a thriving tourism industry.  Natives pride themselves on Tacloban's coastal beauty, the city's tradition of hospitality and its reverence for the elderly and its saints.

"These are God-fearing, peace-loving people," said Tacloban native Theresa Canete said. "But when nature got so angry, for whatever reason, maybe God slept for a minute."

Looking for help beyond Taclobanons

Canete, a CPA from West Covina, is the daughter of Cui's cousin and is also active in the organization. She came to Cui's house, which on occasion doubles as a meeting place for the association.

Canete said in the past, the group would rely on members to raise money. Every other year, the organization plans a medical mission to Tacloban, and drums up about $20,000 to spend on supplies and services.

But given the enormity of Typhoon Haiyan's impact, Canete said the group also has to look outside the community. Organizers say there is an urgency for donors to act quickly because people are in desperate need of food and water and looting has broken out.

"There is no police. There is no government," Canete said.  "The people that we expect to help are also victims.”

A nephew was able to reach Cui on Monday night using a satellite phone. He told her that one of the Cui's brothers, a soda distributor, was barraged by looters, but reported that the family was otherwise safe. Some have been evacuated to Manila or Cebu City.      

RELATED: Pleas for contact fill social media sites following Typhoon Haiyan

It isn’t long before the phone rings again, and Cui is giving another update about Tacloban,  this time speaking in Warway, a dialect used in the city. 

Canete, in the meantime, gets on Facebook, where she’s posted about the group’s disaster relief fund, and checks other people's pages to see if missing Tacloban residents have been recovered. 

This is how life is going to be for a while. Because, the women say, rebuilding their Tacloban will take many, many years, and they plan to be a part of it.

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