Pope Francis on Sunday, December 19, expressed “closeness” to the people in the Philippines who were affected by super typhoon Rai (local name: Odette) that ravaged the southern part of the country late last week.
More than a hundred people are believed to have died due to the typhoon while more than 1.8 million others were affected by its impact, according to the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
“I express my closeness to the people of the Philippines affected by a strong typhoon, which has destroyed many homes,” said Pope Francis during his weekly address after the Angelus in the Vatican.
“May the Santo Niño bring consolation and hope to the families most in need; and may he inspire practical help in all of us,” said the pontiff, adding that “the first genuine help is prayer.”
In his message to the pilgrims in the Vatican, Pope Francis said everyone should, like Mary in the Gospel, step out of their own sphere of challenges, problems, negative thoughts, and reach out to others to be of help.
“We could visit with an elderly person, the lonely, call someone, or offer any other act of charity,” he said, adding that God is great and is always there to help if “we reach out to Him.”
At least 109 people have been killed in the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, official tallies showed late on Sunday, as efforts to deliver water and food to devastated islands ramped up.
More than 300,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Rai ravaged the southern and central regions of the archipelago.
The storm knocked out communications and electricity in many areas, ripped off roofs, damaged hospitals, toppled concrete power poles and flooded villages.
Arthur Yap, governor of the popular tourist destination Bohol, said on his official Facebook page that mayors on the devastated island had so far reported 73 deaths in their towns.
Ten people also died on the Dinagat Islands, provincial information officer Jeffrey Crisostomo told AFP.
That took the overall number of reported deaths to 109, according to the latest official figures, making it one of the deadliest storms to hit the country in recent years.
But the toll was likely to rise as disaster agencies assessed the full extent of the storm’s aftermath across the vast archipelago.
Rai smashed into the country Thursday as a super typhoon packing winds of 195 kilometers (120 miles) per hour.
Thousands of military, police, coast guard and fire personnel are being deployed to assist in search and rescue efforts in the worst-affected areas.
Coast guard and naval vessels carrying food, water and medical supplies are being dispatched, while heavy machinery — like backhoes and front-end loaders — are being sent to help clear roads blocked by fallen power poles and trees.
“It’s going to be a long, tough road for people to rebuild and get their lives back on track,” said Alberto Bocanegra, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Philippines.
The organization appealed for 20 million Swiss francs ($21.6 million) to fund urgent relief and recovery efforts.
Pope Francis expressed hopes for “concrete aid” to be offered to the Catholic-majority country.
An aerial survey of damage to parts of Bohol showed “our people have suffered greatly,” Yap said. – with a report from Agence France Presse