An unforgettable phone call

By Dick Mason, The Observer November 15, 2013 11:04 am

Survivors stay beside a ship that was washed ashore, hitting makeshift houses near an oil depot in Tacloban City, Leyte province central Philippines. Authorities said at least 2 million people in 41 provinces had been affected by Typhoon Haiyan and at least 23,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. (AP photo)
Survivors stay beside a ship that was washed ashore, hitting makeshift houses near an oil depot in Tacloban City, Leyte province central Philippines. Authorities said at least 2 million people in 41 provinces had been affected by Typhoon Haiyan and at least 23,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. (AP photo)
 

La Grande woman learns after three-day wait that her family survived typhoon

The midnight hour was fast approaching Sunday evening and Nancy Beem of La Grande was teetering on total exhaustion. 

Still, Beem was wide awake and feeling no fatigue. A joyous phone conversation was washing away all feelings of weariness. 

It was also giving Beem reason to believe in miracles.

Beem was talking to her mother, Felicisima Young, who lives in the Philippines, for the first time since Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central portion of the island nation on Nov. 8. Their conversation was short because the battery of the cellphone Beem’s mother had was low.

Still, their talk was unforgettable.

“We were so excited to hear each other’s voices,” Beem said.

Beem had not been able to find out how any members of her family in the Philippines were doing since the storm hit and knocked out communication service in the city of Tacloban City where Beem’s mother, two of her brothers and many other family members live.

Beem finally was able to connect with her mom late Sunday after her sister called from Europe with news that their mother was OK and had just gained access to a working phone.

“She said, ‘Call our mom, call our mom,’” Beem said. 

An instant later Beem made the phone call.

“I was shaking while dialing my mom’s number,” Beem said. “Finally, I heard the sweetest voice I wanted to ever hear, my mom. We were both crying on the phone.”

Beem learned that all of her immediate family members were unharmed. Tragically, though, the wife of one her cousins had drowned.

Beem, who grew up in the Philippines, had every reason to fear the worst. Nearly 4,000 people are believed to have been killed in Tacloban City. 

“All kinds of scenarios were going through my mind,” Beem said she thought after hearing this news. 

Frantic online searches gleaned not a sliver of information for Beem about any of her family members.

Online photos of Tacloban City revealed that the neighborhood where Beem’s family lives had been flattened and shredded by the typhoon. So grim was the outlook that one person told Beem, “’Nancy, if they survived it’s a miracle.”

Beem’s family in Tacloban City, with a population of 320,000, survived the disaster but not most of their home. More than half of it was destroyed by the storm and what remains is badly tattered. 

“It is a skeleton,” Beem said.

Like many homes in Tacloban City, it sustained major damage from the large cargo ships that were washed into the city by a wall of water 15 to 20 feet high during the storm. The ships and their cargo containers toppled homes as if they were toothpicks. They also took a terrible toll on human life. 

“One family we knew across the road from our house all vanished after they got hit by the container vans and ships while fleeing,” Beem said.

Today the cargo ships sit on dry land all over Tacloban City, blocking roads and preventing rescue workers from transporting food, water and other emergency supplies to storm victims. Beem said that nobody in her family’s neighborhood has yet received even a single bottle of water from relief workers since the storm hit.

“The situation is horrendous. That is an understatement,” Beem said. “Those who made it through the storm are faced with another hurdle, survival.”

Beem’s family is getting food and water from one of her brothers who has been going into another town to get supplies. 

Other people in the area are scavenging through debris to find something to eat. 

“They have been collecting rain for their drinking water,” Beem said.

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