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Typhoon hits village with local ties (11/13/2013)
By Sarah Squires

Submitted photo
     The island village of Almagro, before the typhoon devastated the region
The typhoon leveled houses, destroyed businesses, killed families. As news footage showed devastating scenes that captivated viewers around the world, one tiny island village has been all but left to fend for itself in the wake of the storm.

The tiny village of Almagro is snug along the shoreline; bluff-like coconut fields rise up around the cluster of small homes and colorful fishing boats. Much like the river cities surrounding Winona, the village is surrounded by water and sloping forests. For local photographer Shannon Porter and his mother, Rosario, it's also home to about 50 family members, where Rosario was born and raised.

Like the more populated cities crushed by the gigantic typhoon, Almagro's tiny dot on the map was engulfed in the path of the eye of the storm, which destroyed homes and farms and many families' livelihoods. But the cameras aren't rolling in Almagro, relief efforts haven't reached the town, and the Porters' family members there are hoping that a small check from their U.S. kin might help them board the one passenger boat they know is coming, might allow them to buy a bag of rice to help them survive the time of chaos.

As he realized how many remote island villages were destroyed by the typhoon, and how little they might receive from aid organizations, Shannon quickly got to work, putting together a fundraising campaign for small communities like Almagro. He is hoping that Winona — the island city, after all — will adopt Almagro Island and help its residents recover and survive.

Rosario has learned that no one in her family was killed by the storm. She is able to receive limited information about the disaster via telephone from her brother Benigno Maranguez, who has some reception from his home in Manila. Rosario sends messages through Benigno, and when he is able to reach other family members in Almagro, he passes her words along.

She has learned that the roof of another brother's home was ripped from the structure by the winds, and the family's coconut farm was devastated. "They can't make money now," she explained, outlining plans to send some funds to get them through the next few days.

"Here you have this little village of fishermen and farmers who have no real outside resources," added Shannon, who explained that in Almagro, there are no power tools; rebuilding will be done by hand, and will take time and hard work. "We sit here in Minnesota in our big houses, and it feels like you can't do anything. You can only wonder what they're going through. Not only do they have to rebuild their homes, but their farms."

Rosario spent a month this spring at her childhood home, walking under the familiar umbrella of coconut trees, watching pick-up basketball games at the cement harbor that doubles as a court, laughing with friends and relatives as they sang karaoke. Because she knew that a massive storm was on its way, she said thoughts of her childhood home dominated her life over the last few days as she watched the tragic reports at her home in Wabasha. "I was praying, please typhoon, please, leave my family," she said. "I cannot go to sleep."

The villagers escaped the deadly storm by evacuating to the elementary school, one of the buildings in town made of cement. Rosario's great-great-grandfather helped found the village; he built the elementary school that saved villagers during the storm, and once the school was complete, people began moving to the island town to ensure their children received an education.

Shannon was able to travel to Almagro when he was a teenager, meeting family members a world away. Growing up in Weaver, Minn., "I was used to the small town feel," Shannon explained, "but there's no creature comfort there. It was definitely a beautiful little island; it really resembles a town the size of Fountain City with the bluffs and hillside behind it. It's on the other side of the world, but it's kind of similar, too."

Shannon has set up a fund for donations, from spare change to more generous donations, that will help the residents of Almagro and other small island communities affected by the typhoon. Checks may be made out to: Small Islands of the Philippines Relief Fund, care of Shannon Porter, and mailed to 170 East Third Street, Winona, Minn. 55987. A link at www.portergraph.com/islands will soon be available for online giving.

"We're just trying to help people who have nothing right now," he said. "It's the least I can do. Financially, if we're able to give a little, it ends up being a lot."

In the coming days, Shannon will also organize fundraising events and other opportunities, and those interested in helping out may contact him at portergraph@gmail.com. Keep reading the Winona Post for information about more opportunities to help. 


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