Red Cross helping U.S. families locate relatives in the Philippines

Published: Nov. 12, 2013 at 3:12 AM CST|Updated: Jun. 29, 2016 at 8:56 PM CDT
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Typhoon Haiyan devastation
Typhoon Haiyan devastation

NEW ORLEANS - Officials in the Philippines continue to survey the damage after Typhoon Haiyan. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Filipino Americans find it's not easy to check on their loved ones. So now, the American Red Cross is stepping in to help.

Jeff Gapultos can't believe the images coming out of the Philippines, which show homes leveled, churches turned into makeshift morgues and people starving on the streets waiting for food and water to be delivered.

"My goodness, all the pictures and the news that we've seen for the areas that were hit, it's just absolutely tragic," Gapultos said.

Gapultos is a Filipino American living in New Orleans. Immediately after the typhoon made landfall, he and his parents began their quest to locate relatives living in the deadly storm's track.

"It was very scary," he said. "There was a lot of concern. First thing, of course, was like how's the family? The aunts, uncles, cousins and what not."

With communication limited, getting in touch with people there is nearly impossible, so the American Red Cross is stepping in with a desperately needed resource.

"Our volunteers here in the United States work with the volunteers across international borders, in this case the Philippines, to track down family members," said Melissa Eugene Duplantier, with the New Orleans chapter of the Red Cross.

Boots on the ground in the Philippines are traveling to the last known address of missing loved ones to determine their fate. It's a service being offered across the United States.

"Now, understand the communication systems in the Philippines have been impacted, but if you still have not heard from your family, please call the local chapter of the Red Cross," said Eugene-Duplantier.

Sick with worry for days, Jeff Gapultos' father didn't know if his sister and her family made it through the storm. Finally, word trickled in through Facebook.

"Thank goodness he did get to hear from his sister and all of her children, my cousins, they've reported that they're ok," Gapultos said.

Gapultos says there are no words to express his relief, but it's just a small consolation as he watches from afar the unspeakable damage the typhoon did to his family's home nation.

The Red Cross urges anyone in this area trying to reach a relative in the Philippines to simply call the New Orleans office at (504) 620-3110. They'll assign a case manager who will work with the volunteers overseas to track down as much information as they can.