Somehow, Veronica Mahaffy has gone to work – she has two jobs – every day for a week since the typhoon demolished her home island of Samar in the Philippines. But her thoughts are not on the food she cooks at the Tropical Sunrise restaurant during the day or her night job making a few extra dollars.
It is in the village of Balangiga where she grew up and where her father, brothers and sisters live. A place of about 12,000 people – the buildings seemingly all demolished. Mahaffy has not been able to find out anything about the status of her family.
“I still know nothing,” Mahaffy, 45, said. “I worry all the time. It has been a week. I hear nothing.”
Mahaffy barely can tolerate seeing the television news, seeing pictures of the devastation. She knows there have been reports of looting, towns and villages still cut off without supplies after a week. People without fresh water or food.
Mahaffy expects that the family homes are destroyed.
The most recent estimates show thousands feared dead in the storm, with almost 700,000 displaced from destroyed homes. Balangiga is right in the middle of the destruction.
“I work and I hope,” Mahaffy said.
So do all of Mahaffy’s coworkers at Tropical Sunrise on Rock Hill’s Herlong Avenue. Co-owner Tessie Baldwin is from the Philippines, too, but further north. Her family experienced the storm but not such devastation.
“We all are hoping that Veronica’s family can be located and she can hear some good news,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin and the other co-owner, Brenda Mobley, run a family-style business. The workers are not help; the workers are family, too.
“All of us are praying that Veronica hears something,” Mobley said. “We all will help any way we can.”
The restaurant is holding a benefit lunch Sunday to raise money for relief – every one of the workers has volunteered to help. Some of the workers were born here and some were born in Asia, and it makes no difference at all after such a terrible storm. Even the customers are praying for Mahaffy to hear good news.
“My family had winds and storm – not like what happened in some parts,” said Chris Reslar, a Philippines native who lives in Rock Hill and works as a chef at a Japanese restaurant. “The country really has it bad in so many places.”
One of the places hit hardest is Tacloban, in Leyte province near Balangiga. That city of about 200,000 took a direct hit, and pictures show it to be almost flattened. In that city somewhere is the mother and brother of Rock Hill’s Margie Clark, who was born and raised there.
“I got only one text message the first day from my sister – my mother had to walk 10 hours for a doctor,” Clark said. “I haven’t heard anything since.”
For immigrants to America such as Clark and Mahaffy, who have come to this country for a chance to try to make a better life, both are so thankful to friends, co-workers, even strangers who have donated to help their countrymen dealing with what has been described as the worst storm ever to hit land. Both women have asked the American Red Cross to begin a trace on the relatives.
On the counter at the Tropical Sunrise is a donation bucket. On it is written, simply, “Donations for typhoon victims in the Philippines.”
“So many people have been worried for me and my family – and I thank them so much,” said Mahaffy.
Mahaffy came to America by herself. She left everything behind. And still, a week after the storm, she does not know about the family she also left behind.