STURGIS, Mich.- It’s been more than a month since the strongest storm in recorded history slammed the Philippines, killing thousands and destroying almost everything in its path.
In November, FOX 17 brought you the story of two Sturgis natives volunteering in the Philippines who were missing when Typhoon Haiyan hit.
Both volunteers survived and Elsa Thomasma, 24, stayed after the typhoon to help in the recovery.
During her visit home to Sturgis for the holidays, Elsa said it’s a stark contrast between her life in the Philippines.
She has raised thousands of dollars and dedicated years of her life to helping those in need. Those efforts are now being credited with saving hundreds of lives in the Philippines.
“The wind was just blowing outside like there was a giant vacuum just sucking everything.” Elsa said about the typhoon.
Haiyan flattened entire villages and killed thousands. Elsa said she just needed to be with the people and help them through the tragedy.
During the storm she and fellow Grand Valley State University graduate Carter Brown took dozens of families into their dilapidated apartment.
Elsa said they were just in survival mode, “just grabbing any piece of dry blanket or clothing or blanket or towel we can find and putting it on the children.”
Once the storm calmed and Elsa and Carter did everything they could for the people they gave refuge from the storm, they stepped outside and saw the shredded world around them.
Thomasma says every single power line was down and there were trees everywhere. She says the water was a murky black color and you couldn’t tell what was underneath it.
“The victims from the storms just laid out on the concrete with just nothing, no one to help them,” Elsa says of the bodies lining the streets.
That’s when she had to make a choice that could cost her her own life. She could take one of the only three spots on a military plane back home where she could see her family, have guaranteed meals and shelter and get away from the horror the Philippines now faced.
But, Elsa says there was no choice.
“Some of them have become like children to me, even if they`re not adopted by me it`s like the whole entire community has become part of me, they`re my mother and my brother and my sisters and my children,” she said.
Elsa is the Communications Coordinator for Volunteer for the Visayans. Donations to continue their projects and relief efforts can be made here: www.visayans.org/donate
Elsa continues to update her blog on the relief efforts and her work in Cangumbang, it can be viewed here: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog/elsat/5/tpod.html