TACLOBAN, Philippines (BP) — Emily Ortega was swept off her feet when the storm surge from Typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban, Philippines.

The typhoon’s sustained winds, peaking at nearly 200 mph, drove waves 20 feet tall into the coastal city. Ortega clung to a post while storm debris hammered her. Hours later, the evacuation center in Tacloban where the pregnant 21-year-old found refuge was filled with cheers as she gave birth to a healthy baby girl — Bea Joy Sagales.

The news for most Filipinos in the typhoon’s path, however, is far from jubilant, with the estimated death toll now exceeding 10,000, a Baptist leader in the Philippines said.

“Typhoon Haiyan left the country, leaving behind widespread damage that will take days to assess,” Gerlie Baltero of the Luzon Convention of Southern Baptist Churches said in an e-mail. “Many are in need of food, water and medicine.”

Southern Baptists and their partners in the Philippines are among those at the leading edge of the relief effort following the Nov.8 typhoon.

A specialized disaster-relief team from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will join others already in the storm zone to assist people with immediate survival needs, said Pat Melancon, managing director of disaster response and management for Baptist Global Response. That “rapid assistance” team will be followed by a group that will make detailed assessments and formulate a longer-term strategy for helping survivors rebuild their lives.

The leader of the rapid assistance team, SBTC disaster relief director Jim Richardson, asked Baptists to pray for them as they step into the chaos of the storm zone.

“The team is preparing to assist the churches and brothers and sisters in Christ to share the help, healing and hope of our Lord Jesus with the people affected by Typhoon Haiyan,” Richardson said. “Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide their thoughts and actions.”

Baptist Global Response has released an initial $15,000 in relief funds to humanitarian partners who are focusing their efforts on three areas: Tacloban, which is the hardest-hit area, and northern Cebu and Panay provinces, said Jeff Palmer, BGR’s executive director. Baptist churches in the Philippines and Filipino teams trained in disaster relief will be working alongside Southern Baptist workers in efforts focusing on immediate needs such as water, food and shelter.

The extent of the damage — a national state of calamity has been declared — begs for Christian compassion to be shown to more than 9 million people affected by the typhoon, Baltero said.

“For Christians, every disaster is a call to action; we are called to help those who are suffering when they need it,” Baltero said. “This is one ministry we cannot turn our backs on.”

(Source – Baptist Global Response)