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A Distant Desperation Hits Home: With Family, Friends in Philippines, Upper Valley Residents Worry, Wait for Word

  • While at her home in Windsor, Vt., Nida Tansey looks through albums of photos from her visits to see her family in the Philippines on Nov. 14, 2013. Tansey and her husband, who met in the Philippines, travel to see Tansey's family every few years. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    While at her home in Windsor, Vt., Nida Tansey looks through albums of photos from her visits to see her family in the Philippines on Nov. 14, 2013. Tansey and her husband, who met in the Philippines, travel to see Tansey's family every few years.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nida Tansey of Windsor, who grew up in the Philippines and still has family and friends who live there, at her home in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 14, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Nida Tansey of Windsor, who grew up in the Philippines and still has family and friends who live there, at her home in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 14, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • A photograph of Nida Tansey with her parents and sisters. Tansey is in the second row at the far left. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    A photograph of Nida Tansey with her parents and sisters. Tansey is in the second row at the far left.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • A photograph of a street on Bantayan Island in the Phillipines, which Nida Tansey photographed and says is now completely distroyed. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    A photograph of a street on Bantayan Island in the Phillipines, which Nida Tansey photographed and says is now completely distroyed.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • While at her home in Windsor, Vt., Nida Tansey looks through albums of photos from her visits to see her family in the Philippines on Nov. 14, 2013. Tansey and her husband, who met in the Philippines, travel to see Tansey's family every few years. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Nida Tansey of Windsor, who grew up in the Philippines and still has family and friends who live there, at her home in Windsor, Vt., on Nov. 14, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • A photograph of Nida Tansey with her parents and sisters. Tansey is in the second row at the far left. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • A photograph of a street on Bantayan Island in the Phillipines, which Nida Tansey photographed and says is now completely distroyed. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Windsor — After the devastating typhoon struck her native Philippines on Nov. 8, it took three days for Nida Tansey to make sure her family there was OK.

Many of her siblings live in Cebu province, where Tansey lived for the first three decades of her life, in a rural area that escaped the harshest damage. Fortunately — unlike so many others in the country — their homes survived the storm. But many of the crops that they rely on for food and income, including corn, bananas and coconuts, were badly damaged or wiped out entirely, and they have struggled to find food, water and other resources.

Tansey, 57, and her husband, John, whom she met in the Philippines while he was serving in the Peace Corps in the mid-1980s, have been keeping touch with their relatives over Facebook, and telephone when possible. Her sister-in-law was able to contact them by phone on Tuesday, Tansey’s first confirmation that everybody was all right.

But Bantayan Island, the area where John Tansey was first stationed during his Peace Corps service, fared far worse during the storm, and the couple have yet to hear from friends in that area.

Are they OK? The Tanseys still don’t know. “It’s really hard. It’s very emotional,” Nida Tansey said last week at her home in Windsor.

“Can you imagine watching them, all those people, waiting for help? (The people there) end up going crazy, shooting. It’s so devastating to hear all those problems.”

In a later interview, she pulled out a photograph from one of her personal albums depicting a scene from a Bantayan town: a vibrant street lined with small buildings, a restaurant, cars and people bustling about before a backdrop of tropical mountains.

“It’s all gone, it’s all washed out,” she said. “(It) isn’t there anymore.”

It’s stories like these that have been heart-wrenching for Beatriz Cantada, 34, who grew up in the Philippines capital of Manila and now lives in West Lebanon. She said she feels the news media has focused its coverage on the hard-hit city of Tacloban, and while that “ground zero” area deserves much attention, she said, there are many other stories of devastation in smaller villages that are going untold.

Indeed, her Facebook newsfeed is overwhelmed by many of these difficult stories shared by her friends in the Philippines, including desperate updates from people who lost their homes and still can’t find their parents and grandparents.

“Their plea for help just hits my core, and also I feel so far away that I can’t physically be there to help my people,” she said.

Cantada’s parents and sister still live in the Philippines and, like Nida Tansey’s family, escaped the storm without injury or damage to their homes. Cantada was able to get in touch with them immediately after the storm using applications such as Skype. She has kept close contact with them since then, as her father traveled to Cebu to help coordinate incoming donations, which have slowly begun to trickle into the country in recent days, while her mother and sister are helping to coordinate fundraising efforts.

“My mom was just amazed at how everyone is just coming together and donating money, donating their time to send relief goods,” Cantada said. “It’s just everyone’s united. So that’s a good thing, but obviously the negative is there’s still a lot to be done, and it’s very slow, but it’s moving along.”

At Dartmouth College, where Cantada and John Tansey work, a spokeswoman said there are no active undergraduates with a permanent or custodial address in the Philippines, and the college does not operate a study abroad program there.

The Tanseys and Cantada each said that their great hope now is that the people of the Philippines will get the help they so badly need. Nida Tansey, who runs a catering and takeout business while also working at the Windsor Station restaurant, has been sending money to her family to help them get by, and said the pace that resources have arrived has been “maddening.” She suggested that the nation of more than 7,000 islands should have planned ahead of time to know how to distribute relief.

She also hopes that aid to the Philippines does not become a matter of politics.

“The people that need it, it should be (provided) right then,” she said.

Cantada said Filipino people are “very resilient,” having worked to overcome natural disasters in the past, including an earthquake that devastated the island of Bohol last month. But she hopes that people will be provided emotional support, in addition to food and shelter, and that the relief effort carries past the initial phase.

“What I definitely hope for is that the Filipino people don’t get burned out, the volunteers, that they pace themselves,” she said. “This is a long process. Even after CNN, NBC, Fox News stop reporting on the Philippines, we (will) still have work to do.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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