Editor's note: UPDATES with reports after typhoon made landfall.
As Typhoon Hagupit weakened over the Philippines and moved slowly toward an area south of Manila, residents of the Samar and Leyte islands began to leave evacuation centers Dec. 8.
At least four United Methodist churches were among the 687 evacuation centers providing shelter for the nearly 1 million Filipinos who fled Typhoon Hagupit. The death toll from the typhoon, known locally as Ruby, was at least 21 persons, according to news reports, but significantly lower than the more than 6,000 killed during last year’s Typhoon Haiyan.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, members of Isabel United Methodist Church left the San Roque gymnasium, the evacuation center in Isabel, Leyte, and worshiped together at a member’s home located on high ground. The Rev. Sharon May Aradanas, a United Methodist, told United Methodist News Service that some church members were still in the gym.
The church and parsonage are underwater, as members learned when they went there to get food, water and clothes, Aradanas said in a text message.
"Through God's mercy, we are all OK here!" she said.
They have since moved back to the church to clean up as the water subsided.
The Rev. Willy Yasay, superintendent of the Oriental Mindoro-Romblon-Marinduque District, said four United Methodist churches in the district accommodated evacuees.
Pinamalayan, Dangay, St. Luke's and Dalahican United Methodist churches together took in 200 to 300 people from areas where storm surges were feared.
Shelter is about all the churches can provide, Yasay said. “We prepared porridge for the people we have accommodated, but I don't think we can sustain it."
Tacloban church underwater
In Tacloban, where three members of the Light and Life United Methodist Church died in Haiyan last year, the church is underwater, and bunkhouses some members were living in were destroyed, said the Rev. Joseph Cornito, pastor of the church.
"They are OK and can manage, but the real problem is food and how they can move on from the new cycle of devastation," he said. He is also worried about members who rely on daily wages, he added.
Hagupit did not appear to have been as severe as many feared, but aid workers have been unable to reach isolated communities in Eastern and Northern Samar, according to published reports.
The Rev. David Cosmiano, superintendent of the United Methodist Eastern Visayas District, said he and his family and members of Galilean United Methodist Church were gathered in a temporary evacuation center at the Upper Campus of Visayas State University in Baybay, about 94 kilometers from Tacloban.
First, he gathered the community of faith for prayer and reflection.
Before the storm came ashore, Cosmiano said people were prepared with food for at least four days. “I can say that we are more prepared now than when Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the land."
Responders prepare to help
According to the ACT Alliance, a coalition of more than 140 churches and affiliated organizations, the storm weakened to Category 3, two notches below "super typhoon," but still powerful enough to unleash huge destruction. ACT’s local partners prepared to help even as the organization warned that if the storm does not reduce its wind speed further to a Category 2, transitional shelters built after Typhoon Haiyan are likely to be blown away.
Before the typhoon came ashore, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, leader of the Davao Episcopal Area, urged United Methodists to first secure their own safety, as well as that of their families and church members. When the weather clears, he asked them to notify his office of their situation and urgent needs so relief can be coordinated.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has a rebuilding project for typhoon survivors in Leyte Province, moved supplies from a tent to a concrete building ahead of the potential storm.
United Methodist Communications field staff, which provided communication relief following Haiyan, is tracking Hagupit's impact on area communications.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines reported that it had a vehicle available to take people to evacuation centers and had teams preparing “for rapid assessment on the field after the storm.” The council, which includes The United Methodist Church in the Philippines, already had distributed 6 kilos of rice to 408 families evacuating in Samar.