MILLEDGEVILLE — Four months ago Georgia College nursing professor Dr. Flors Bondal and a group of students traveled to the Philippines to study abroad in her native country.
There they witnessed first-hand the emotional strength of the nation’s people, who were in the midst of rebuilding their lives in the wake of a magnitude-7.6 earthquake that struck the east coast last year.
Now as devastation encompasses the country once again the Philippines native said people there are “still optimistic” as they continue to keep the faith to get through the massive devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
“I took 11 students and one faculty member to study abroad over the summer. Even with the devastation from the earthquake, the people were still smiling and laughing. We did not earn a lot of money when we were working there, and with the earthquake and typhoon, it’s hard to see them like this because they’re hard-working people,” Bondal said. “Students were able to see the economic levels of people there; some living in bricks and others in shacks.”
One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the Philippines Friday with wind estimates at landfall as high as 195 mph. The death toll is 2,344, according a national tally kept by the disaster agency as of Wednesday afternoon, with numerous others still unaccounted for. That figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when accurate information is collected from the whole disaster zone, which spreads over a wide swath of the eastern and central Philippines but appears to be concentrated on two main islands — Leyte and Samar.
“My brother, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, sister, cousins, uncles and aunties are OK. My auntie ... lost their house and some of my cousins’ houses were damaged,” Bondal said. “I have distant relatives in Samar and I haven’t heard from them yet. I talked to my sister [Tuesday night] and she said we have friends that lost their houses.”
Senior nursing student Brent Strickland said the students at Holy Name University in Bohol, where Georgia College students studied abroad, have been in contact since Friday and all are safe.
“One of the main pictures I saw on the Internet is a picture of a church we visited; it’s now destroyed. I’m grateful that I got to see it before this happened, but I’m also sad that these people are suffering,” Strickland said. “I know how hard it’s going to be for them to recover because I saw how they lived before the [typhoon]. It’s also frustrating because we got pretty close to the people there and living all the way on the other side of the world, I can’t help.”
Super Typhoon Haiyan dealt the Philippines a ferocious blow, but the region is historically prone to strong typhoons, having been struck just last year by Super Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 1,000.
“Right now [my family doesn’t] have electricity. The old station is only pumping 15 percent of its electricity consumption, but they are able to charge their cell phones and text. They’re cooking with firewood and there is no clean water,” Bondal said. “Although, there are many families not doing well right now, Boholano people are optimistic and strong. Support is just pouring in and I’m very thankful for that. Right now I’m sending money to my cousins to help them rebuild their houses, especially with Christmas coming in. I can’t imagine not having a house for Christmas.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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