ABU DHABI // Many Filipinos in the UAE have set aside Christmas preparations to plan fund-raisers for flood victims back home.
The tropical storm Washi, known locally as Sendong, battered Cagayan de Oro, Iligan City and other parts of Mindanao in the early hours of Saturday.
The storm blew out yesterday but not before leaving more than 650 people dead and more than 800 missing.
In Cagayan de Oro, a city of more than 500,000 people, unidentified bodies are piled up in morgues. Electricity has been restored in some areas but the city remained without tap water yesterday.
Cornelio Nambatac, 39, an Abu Dhabi Government employee from Cagayan de Oro, said his three sisters, their husbands, four nieces and a nephew had to climb on to the roof of their two-storey home at 2am on Saturday.
"I felt so helpless after receiving a text message from one of my sisters," Mr Nambatac said. "They were on the rooftop for almost four hours to escape the flood."
Floodwaters smashed through their front door and engulfed the first and second floors. They did not have any electricity, water or food until late in the afternoon.
"I got worried when I couldn't contact my sister," Mr Nambatac said. "But I was relieved later after learning that they were all safe."
Last night the committee of Bayanihan UAE, the umbrella group for Filipinos in Abu Dhabi, met to discuss its response.
"Many are aware of the situation and are willing to help," said Bal Junio, 42, the group's president. "I'm proposing that we donate a portion of the Bayanihan's funds to the victims."
The group will raise more money from members and are planning another fund-raiser at a Christmas event on Friday.
FilCom, the Filipino umbrella group in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, has formed an emergency-response team.
"Relief efforts should be immediate," said Alan Bacason, who heads FilCom's governing council. "I've asked the governing council members to join me as volunteers."
Mr Bacason and other community leaders last night discussed how to co-ordinate with other organisations assisting in the relief work.
In October, bureaucratic hold-ups prevented FilCom from sending cash donations for victims of three typhoons.
Although some people and groups in Dubai managed to send cash and boxes of relief goods to Manila, FilCom was unable to launch a fund-raiser.
Fund-raising needed to be cleared by the Philippine consulate, and then approved by the UAE Red Crescent Authority.
But FilCom was unable to obtain a written authorisation from the foreign affairs department in Manila.
This time, pledges and cash donations from 99 community groups will be collected and sent directly to the Philippine Red Cross or a selected non-government organisation.
Anyone who wishes to contribute can also drop food, blankets and clothing at the Philippine overseas labour office in Al Ghusais.
James Dilawangun, 43, an administrative officer at Al Ghurair University in Dubai, said his wife's relatives had been badly affected by the storm.
"Her cousin's house was among those that was swept away," Mr Dilawangun said.
His wife Nanette, 41, was at the family's flat in Iligan, a city where she said some 300 victims, mostly children and women, were swept away as they slept.
Mrs Dilawangun's cousin Ali Mindalano, 46, died, leaving behind seven children.
The house of her nephew Kamaludin Buntalis, 41, who has five children, was swept away.
"They could not get out of their homes," Mrs Dilawangun said. "The floodwaters were waist-high and those who survived were forced to climb on to their rooftops."
From Iligan, she travelled on Saturday to Marawi City where the family lives.
"My cousin's body was recovered today," Mrs Dilawangun said. "We also learnt that one of our aunts is alive and well."
But she said hundreds of thousands of others badly needed help.
Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador, said she was confident that Filipinos here would answer the call for help.
"The Bayanihan council here in Abu Dhabi has a calamity and disaster committee, so we are ready and proactive when all these calamities happen in our country," Ms Princesa said.
"The Bayanihan spirit was evident when the community helped the victims of [this year's typhoons]."
"Bayanihan" is derived from two Filipino words: bayani, meaning hero, and bayan, meaning nation.
In a wider sense, it refers to helping people in times of need and the spirit of leadership, volunteerism and unity.