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Tense moments for ECC woman whose loved ones were in the path of super-typhoon Haiyan

Wired for sound, Melbeth and Christopher Williams talk with relatives in the Philippines Friday.
The Villagonzalo family at Divine Mercy Hills in El Salvador, Mindanao.

Sun Advocate reporter

As the world watched a typhoon of gigantic proportions head towards the Philippines over much of the past week, the storm's effect reached far and wide.

Over 7,500 miles away here in Carbon County, super-typhoon Haiyan left some residents frantically trying to contact family members and searching for any bits and pieces of information about the typhoon's devastation to a place they have called home.

"We've been worried all week long about the typhoon," said Melbeth Williams. Williams, originally from Balingasag in the province of Misamis Oriental, Philippines, said she was in constant contact with her family before the storm hit the area late last week.

"My mother said the winds were very strong and that the rain was non-stop causing flooding in the area," said Williams, who now lives in East Carbon. In the days before the storm made landfall, Williams said she was giving regular updates to her mother, Elizabeth Villagonzalo, and requesting that family members pack essentials in bags before trying to leave the area with some assistance from the Philippine government.

Some pictures of the typhoon Haiyan's devastation showed coconut trees laying on the ground like giant match sticks, a cargo ship washed ashore like a child's bath toy and people searching through the debris of a place where their homes once stood.

Early reports say that the typhoon has killed nearly 1,000 people. Officials believe that the number could rise dramatically once rescue workers are able to reach the areas hit hardest by the storm.

Typically Williams, who left the Philippines in 2007, talks with her family over the phone and through the Internet about two to three times per week and visits once every three years. But when Haiyan's powerful winds, reported to be over 195 miles per hour, knocked out power, contacting family became an excruciating process of dialing phone numbers of anyone back home and hoping that a familiar voice would be heard on the other end of the line.

"When the typhoon hit the country, we got concerned about how her family was doing," said Chris Williams, Melbeth's husband. "I just tried to support my wife as much as I could while we waited to hear for updates about her family."

With information slow to reach outside the country and the thousands of miles separating her from family back home, Williams said she would constantly check weather maps about the storm's path and search the internet for any information she could find.

"Oh my God, I was hoping and praying that my family would be OK," she said. "When I couldn't get a hold of my family, that was really difficult. That's when I would start crying."

While she may not be in the path of typhoon Haiyan currently, Williams said she remembered vividly a typhoon hitting her hometown when she was just a child. Family members grabbed a few essentials and quickly moved to safer location away from the coastal town where she and the family lived.

"We just packed some clothes in a bag and quickly left the house. We didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the storm," she explained.

On Friday afternoon, Williams said she was able to reach family members back home over the phone. Williams' sister, Luzviminda, told her during a conversation on Skype that Balingasag had a lot of flooding in the area and structures and homes were severely effected by the powerful winds.

"My sister said the storm was like a tornado hitting the Philippines five times over," said Williams. "Some houses were completely wiped out."

Despite being over 7,500 miles away from one of the biggest storms ever to make landfall, the effects of it can be felt far and wide even in Carbon County. With the cleanup process just barely underway, the country is having to brace themselves for another storm as tropical depression Zoraida moved in towards Mindanao on Monday morning. According to an Associated Press report, the Philippines is affected by about 20 typhoons or storms each year.

Williams heard Friday afternoon that the family was doing well.

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