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Former city man spared by typhoon in Philippines

Nov 20, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Former Riverton resident Mike Lieberman wasn't harmed by Typhoon Haiyan, which struck more than 450 miles from his home in General Santos City, Philippines.

"(It's) comparable to the distance from Riverton to Pueblo, Colo.," Lieberman said this week. "We had a few mild rain events from the outer bands at the outer edges of the cyclone, (but) the fact that we got any effects from the storm at all is amazing."

He hadn't been expecting severe weather -- Lieberman said typhoons never hit the southern city of GSC, which is protected by a mountain range to the east.

"It's not going to happen," Lieberman said. "We would not be hit like the harbor at Tacloban, which got the 20-foot wall of water that came through as a surge."

Regardless, he said many people in his community have connections in the impacted area, where thousands of deaths were confirmed as of this week. More than 1,500 people are still missing, and 18,000 are injured, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Local scene

Since Haiyan hit, Lieberman said local media has been flooded with information about relief drives and medical missions to the Visayas.

"The news here is wall-to-wall 'Yolanda,'" Lieberman said, using the local name for Typhoon Haiyan. "Living here around so many who have lost or at the very least do not know if they have lost a loved one is palpable."

One of his friends has 26 family members in Tacloban who were affected by the tragedy.

"All but one of their homes were destroyed, and they were left with nothing," Lieberman said.

The woman is trying to get her family out of the area, but Lieberman said the number of seats on outgoing planes is limited.

Communication is also a challenge because most people lost their cell phones in the typhoon.

"Of the 26 people, there's one cell phone," Lieberman said.

Relief efforts

He and others have collected money for the relatives, but Lieberman said it has been difficult to send physical goods such as replacement phones.

"There are 7,000-plus island in the Philippines, (and) the harbors are a wreck," he said. "Relief has to come in by air, and the GenSan airport does not have flights that go (to) Tacloban."

He does not blame the problem on local officials, however. He said they are doing the "best they can in a desperately bad situation."

"There was no way to prepare adequately for an event that was essentially off the charts in the magnitude of its force," Lieberman said.

The typhoon ranks among the world's strongest tropical storms and appears to have been more powerful than Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Philippine weather officials reportedly said the storm sustained winds of 147 mph and gusts of 170 mph when it hit land.

U.S. aid

International aid efforts have faced logistical difficulties as well, but Lieberman said locals have been grateful for help from the U.S. and other countries.

This week, he said the news that the USS George Washington had arrived in Leyte Gulf made the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, with the headline "Like MacArthur's force in 1944."

According to the Inquirer, the aircraft carrier brought about 5,000 sailors as well as food and supplies to help survivors of Yolanda. It is moored near the spot where U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur's force of 174,000 men landed on Oct. 20, 1944, in one of the biggest Allied victories of World War II.

"U.S. aid here is getting very big press," Lieberman said. "The U.S. is getting mostly very, very high marks for being a good friend, a real friend to the Philippines, as opposed to a fair weather friend."

During the recent government shutdown, he said the United States lost some of its standing in the Philippines.

"But right now ... because of the response of the U.S. government to the Philippines in time of need, we've regained much of that stature here," Lieberman said.

Daily life

Weeks after the typhoon, scenes of devastation remain in the Visayas. But in GSC, Lieberman said most people have resumed their daily schedules.

"Things are 'normal,'" he said. "My nephew has a birthday today, (and) the party will be at my house. My daughter's school is taking yearbook pictures and she is in the bedroom getting her makeup on. I am repairing a laptop for a brother-in-law's cousin."

Television stations have resumed their regular programming schedules, and Lieberman said Haiyan isn't the only thing on the news anymore. It still is a common topic of conversation, however.

"A number of us 'expats' will get together tonight," Lieberman said. "Will we talk about it? Yes. ... Among the wives will it be a main topic? Yes, one of them. (And) tomorrow we go to a dinner party with a German expat I have known for years. Will we talk about it there? Sure."

He has been visiting the Philippines since 2008 and has lived in GSC full time since the summer. After more than 30 years in Riverton, though, Lieberman said he still has ties to Wyoming. He thanked his friends who contacted him to make sure he was OK after Haiyan.

"I still have warm feelings toward my adopted home there," he said. "I wish everyone in Riverton well. ... Please be assured that we are OK and safe."

Read more about Lieberman in his blog, Lieberman.blog.netwright.net:7080/

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