Chicago couple survives super typhoon Haiyan

November 19, 2013

"What a shock. They just can't believe the tragedy. They were all crying, some fainted," said Ray Villar.

Ray and Leila Villar were on the island of Panay. That's about 125 miles due west of Tacloban, where most of the deaths from Typhoon Hiayan took place.

The eye of the storm passed right over them as the winds lashed their home for several hours. Their home actually became a refuge for the dozens of other families in their barrio.

"You can feel the house was tilting at the force of the wind. It was so strong. It's hard to explain. All we had to do was keep on praying, everybody was praying," said Villar.

When they emerged, they found all the homes in their barrio destroyed and trees stripped bare. It took them several days to finally get word to their children and grandchildren here in Chicago that they were safe.

In the days since the typhoon hit, instead of evacuating the devastated area and returning home to Chicago, the Villars have been busy with the cleanup and recovery effort. They say emergency supplies of food and other assistance have not yet reached their barrio. Because of that, the Villars and their neighbors have had to make do on their own. They've organized neighbors to clear away the roads of fallen trees and debris, and begin the process of rebuilding the area.

Besides the cleanup and recovery, the Villars have also been helping those who've lost everything.

"We were busy trying to comfort them," says Villar. "Some people still have some rice. But I don't think it will last more than a month. They're going to experience a poverty, hunger situation in about a month."

Closer to home, the Villars' family and friends have been among the thousands of people in the Chicago area who've volunteered their time or donated emergency supplies for the typhoon victims at the Rizal Center, Chicago's Filipino American Community Center in Lake View. Last week, during the five-day relief drive, the center collected more than 12 tractor trailer loads of medicine, food, clothing, water and other emergency supplies.

Organizers hope the emergency supplies will reach the Villars and other parts of the central Philippine Islands in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, the Villars say their plans to return home to celebrate the holidays in Chicago will be postponed because of all the work that needs to be done in the wake of the super typhoon.

Since retiring, the Villars, who are in their early 70s, spend six months out of the year in the Philippines, working on sustainable farming and fishery.

In addition to helping the island community, they also promote Catholic social justice.

"The storm destroyed the church we built" says Leila Villar, "But thanks to prayer and faith, everyone survived."

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