Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 17, 2013

After the storm


---- — EMPIRE — They were 36 of the longest hours of Christy Wiesen's life.

She helplessly watched from her home in Empire while satellite and video images showed Typhoon Haiyan batter the Phillippines. Meanwhile, she wondered if her seven siblings and her parents had taken shelter, if they would survive.

"I was awake all night, trying to call them," she said. "I just prayed and prayed the rosary in my head. I just prayed, that's all I could do."

Wiesen, 25, was rendered helpless as the massive storm battered the island nation with 195 mph winds, cutting off communications with her family in the town of Medellin. Wiesen spent the two days before the storm made landfall trying to warn her family of its intensity.

She reserved a hotel room in a city 35 miles from her home and urged her parents to abandon their tin-roofed hut and take shelter in the concrete building.

"I told him to evacuate and leave the house," she said. "The country just gave warning, but I don't think they prepared for whatever the outcome of the typhoon would be."

And especially hard-hit are the towns like Medellin where most families live in rudimentary huts, make a subsistence living and have few resources to deal with a major disaster.

Wiesen moved to the United States in 2011 shortly before marrying her husband, Tom. The couple met near Christy's hometown where she and Tom worked as teachers at a school that provides English education.

Christy already had worked weekends on sugar cane farms and appealed to local officials to be able to attend high school. Education in the Philippines is paid for by individuals and families and Christy's family didn't have money to pay for school.

She graduated from high school at the top of her class and attended college on a scholarship from a generous group of Norwegians.

Christy knew by coming to the United States, she would be able to help some of her siblings go to college and try to help them find a better life.

Little did she know that the distance would become so painful.

"I just want to go and help them," she said.

After a day and a half, Christy spoke with the oldest of her younger siblings. The family's home had been demolished, as had most of their town and all of the nearby infrastructure. Her parents had refused to leave their house during the storm but survived by clinging to nearby trees as the typhoon made landfall.

In the aftermath, supplies and shelter are scarce, she said.

"They said there is some help coming, but it's not yet there," she said. "I get sick looking at food here, I get sick looking at all the American luxury."

Since the storm, Christy worked to collect money to send to the people in her hometown. Most of the people in the area are poor and cannot afford the inflated prices of what supplies are available locally. And international aid organizations have not yet reached the outlying areas with food and water.

In the interim, Christy, a seasonal waitress and orchard worker, hopes to gather enough money to wire support to her family and others in the neighborhood where she grew up.

Anyone who wold like to help may contact Christy Weisen at 231-633-9275.