Madison man tries to reach family in Philippines

Madison man tries to reach family in Philippines
Leon Bernido

Madison man tries to reach family in the Philippines

It’s a silence almost as devastating as the cities flattened by the so-called super typhoon.

“People over there are very familiar with storms like this because they always occur,” Leon Bernido said, “but they didn’t have any idea the magnitude of this storm.”

Bernido, a nurse in Madison, said the storm knocked out communication he relies on to touch base with about 10 of his cousins in the Philippines.

“It’s kind of an emptiness,” Bernido said. “Good thing I work nights because if I’m at home not working, I’m thinking about them.”

Bernido said those relatives live in a small fishing town on the Pacific coast of Guiuan Samar, one of the spots first hit by Typhoon Haiyan when it made landfall.

The last time anyone in this hemisphere heard from those family members was Nov. 6, when the cousins asked Bernido’s mother if they could move into her brick house for a sturdier roof over their heads.

Since then, no one has heard from that part of the family.

“There’s that empty feeling that you don’t know where they’re at because from previous media on TV,” Bernido explained, “all you see is a lot of dead bodies, and that storm was a direct hit.”

UW professor of Southeast Asian studies Michael Callinane lived in the region slammed by the storm for almost a decade while he studied for his PhD in the country’s history.

“Pretty devastating not having any idea what’s going on,” Callinane said.

He said this is the second significant natural disaster the area has had to deal with. About a month ago, Callinane said his former home of Cebu City was near the epicenter of a massive earthquake.

Callinane sent about 20 emails to friends and colleagues around Cebu City. So far, he has received no responses.

“I’m pretty hopeful because Cebu City is not in the direct line of the hit,” Callinane said. “If I had a friend in Tacloban, I would really wonder if they’re still alive.”

Callinane said the Philippines are hit by two monsoons each year. He said those weather events are fairly predictable, but with the possible death toll now around 10,000, he said not hearing from certain areas and the chaotic looting pushing the country toward martial law puts this event at a whole other level.

“I don’t think we have any idea yet how bad it really is,” Callinane said. “I think that’s still to come.”

“It’s a huge tragedy,” Callinane added.

Bernido takes a medical mission trip to the Philippines every year. He’s set to take off in a couple of weeks, and he said he’s preparing for many more patients this time around.

“I have to emotionally prepare myself every time I go because, again, it’s third world country and often times we take things for granted here and we often times forget how thankful we are and what we have here in America,” Bernido said.

As far as his family goes, Bernido said they are just waiting for the day his cousins’ cell phones come back into service.

“They’re always praying,” Bernido said. “You can tell that most Filipinos, they pray a lot.”

The Filipino American Student Organization (FASO) at UW is helping to plan a relief effort from the Madison area. They expect that event to happen in the next week or two.