TACLOBAN, Philippines (KSDK) – Even 10 miles away from the area that suffered a brunt of Typhoon Haiyan's devastation, volunteers from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod saw children standing in the roads, holding signs and crying for help.
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Piles and piles of debris awaited them in the city of Tacloban, where a storm surge left thousands of people dead and many more displaced. Even 10 days after the disaster, volunteer Pam Nielsen said family members were still combing through the rubble, searching for lost loved ones. Body bags were being filled and carried to central locations or piled onto street corners, before being picked up by dump trucks and carried away to mass graves.
"Every place on the island is destruction," Nielsen told NewsChannel 5's Pat McGonigle via Facetime.
The LCMS left for St. Louis last Sunday, and were led by Glenn Merritt, who has responded to more than 230 disasters. They set out to assist members of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines, which Nielsen said had suffered greatly and had asked for the church's assistance.
The Missouri Synod is also sending $100,000 in emergency money, a number it says will likely grow to several million as it is already committing to the long-term rebuilding of the hardest hit areas of the Philippines for several years to come.
"I just think about the utter devastation of people's lives and our own motivation to share the mercy and love of God with these people in this terrible situation," said Rev. Matthew Harrison.
"This disaster, though on the other side of the world, to us, it's very personal," Nielsen said.
The Philippine government has confirmed 3,982 deaths in wake of the typhoon that devastated the island nation on Nov. 8. At least 1,602 are still missing, more than 4 million have been forced from their homes and at least 13 million people are still missing, according to the United Nations.