It took more than three weeks, but Rock Hill’s Veronica Mahaffy, an immigrant from the Philippines, has finally heard that her family survived the typhoon that killed thousands last month.
Mahaffy’s father, sister and extended family live in the village of Balangiga, on Samar Island in the huge archipelago. Samar and the connected Leyte province, and the city of Tacloban, where Mahaffy’s niece lives, took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan.
“When I finally heard the voice of my niece, I cried with joy,” Mahaffy said. “I was crying and she said, “ ‘Auntie, I am OK. We all made it.’ For days and days I heard nothing.
“I did not know if they were alive.”
However, the family’s home in the coastal fishing village was demolished. Just parts of a few walls remain.
Mahaffy’s father ended up being shielded by a refrigerator as the storm demolished the house around him. Her sister huddled underneath the only horizontal surface that remained – the kitchen counter and sink.
“They have to rebuild everything,” Mahaffy said.
But because there is so much devastation, and hundreds of thousands of displaced people, the family is still living in the shell of the home.
“That is all they have,” Mahaffy said.
Mahaffy – who works nights at a warehouse and days as a cook at Rock Hill’s Tropical Sunrise restaurant – has sent all the money she can scrape together to her family.
After The Herald wrote about the restaurant’s raising money for the Red Cross to send to the Philippines during a Nov. 17 brunch, customers and even strangers donated almost $4,000. Some money was even donated specifically to help Mahaffy’s family when they were found.
“People here were so generous and wonderful, and we just want to thank them all,” said Tropical Sunrise’s operator Tessie Baldwin, another Filipino immigrant who has lived in Rock Hill for 40 years and an organizer of the benefit. “Always people in Rock Hill look out to help others.”
And people are still helping. The restaurant at 135 S. Herlong Ave. still has on its counter a bucket for donations for the people of the Philippines.
“I just want to say, ‘Thank you,’ ” Mahaffy said. “I never knew so many people cared so much.”
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065