Alaska Legislators Ask Constituents To Support Storm Relief Efforts

Massive weather events have shaken up coastal communities in Alaska and Philippines this month.

Now, two state legislators are asking their constituents to support to relief efforts on both fronts.

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When super-typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines, it walloped the rural western province of Aklan.

Phones and internet still appear to be down. The information that is making its way out of Aklan, isn’t promising. A government official told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that 11 people have died in the province of Aklan, and and more than 9,000 homes were leveled.

Alaska state representative Cathy Muñoz remembers what the province was like a year ago, when she and representative Bob Herron went there for a trade mission.

It was Alaska’s first-ever official visit to the Philippines. Muñoz says there was a huge welcome lined up when they reached Aklan’s capital city.

“Just about the entire community lined up to greet us,” Muñoz said. “Thousands of people lined the street as we were getting out of the car to attend a reception in our honor.”

“They had bands and hundreds of marchers greeting us. It was just an overwhelming experience.”

When Muñoz and Herron were in the Philippines, they talked to dozens of legislators and educators – about fisheries exports and new university exchange programs. They even laid the groundwork for a sister city partnership, between Juneau and the provincial capital of Kalibo.

But since the typhoon, Muñoz and Herron haven’t heard from any of their contacts in Aklan.

While Alaskans wait for word from typhoon-struck areas, Muñoz says there are ways to offer aid now.

“The Filipino Community [Inc.] here in Juneau is having an event very soon,” Muñoz said. “And I donated to that event so that we can raise monies that will be sent home.”

Long before the trade mission, Muñoz says Alaskans and Filipinos had developed a bond.

“The Filipino people have made contributions to the development of the territory and the state for years and years,” Muñoz said. “I think it’s really important that we come together as a community to support the Philippines and the people that have direct connections to the land and the devastation.”

In Herron’s district, Unalaska’s Fil-Am Association is holding a dinner on Saturday to raise money for aid organizations, too.

Herron says his constituents should attend that event if they can. But he also urges them to think about relief efforts more broadly – and consider what’s going on here in Alaska.

A string of fall storms has been wreaking havoc on the western part of the state. The storms damaged homes and chewed up water and sewer systems. The village of Kotlik is asking the state to declare a disaster there. Others are expected to follow suit.

Rebuilding in Kotlik and other remote villages is going to be a huge challenge. To help, Herron says he gave to the Red Cross.

“In terms of what happened in Kotlik and in terms of what happened in the Philippines, it’s a very small donation,” Herron said. “But I want the money to go to coastal communities that are impacted by tremendous weather events.”

There’s another common thread that connects Alaska and the Philippines, though. It goes beyond shared culture or economic interests and it might be to blame for such creating such powerful storms in the first place.

Herron says it’s climate change.

“All of us – that’s people who live on this planet – we have to recognize what is happening,” Herron said. “And we’re going to have to realize that there could be many benefits to what is happening. And we’ve got to try to minimize the impacts. And that’s a tall order.”

It’s also a long-term goal. Right now, survivors on Alaska’s coast, and in the Philippines, are facing immediate challenges. They need the basics, Herron says. Then, they can try to start over.