A Springfield doctor is among a team of physicians who are reportedly the first humanitarian medical aid group to reach the Philippines since the area was devastated by a typhoon.
Paul Chu, 56, and others from the Mammoth Medical Missions were headed to a mission in southern Mexico last Friday, but after learning a typhoon slammed into the island while they were at the Los Angeles International Airport the group diverted their efforts.
The 16-member team flew to Manila on Saturday and, according to his wife, Jeanne Chu, have been in Tanauan, Philippines, a small town hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan.
The typhoon is believed to have killed about 2,500 people, affected more than 11 million and displaced about 673,000, according national reports.
Jeanne Chu, 53, a longtime Springfield resident, said she was in disbelief when she learned about the group’s plans.
“My first reaction was what are you doing? …But God is using them. He put them exactly where they were needed,” she said. “I went from being worried to being overwhelmed with pride.”
She said on her husband’s first day, the group performed 55 surgeries — mostly amputations.
On the second day, he was a part of a team of doctors and others who helped deliver a baby via C-section in the pouring rain, Jeanne Chu said.
She and other family members have not spoken to Paul since his departure, but have seen him on national news. They also get updates from the Mammoth Medical Missions’ Facebook page.
A Facebook post on Nov. 12 said: “This emergency operation was done in the pouring rain by Dr. Kim and Dr. Koehler while wearing headlamps, and other team members holding up the tarp to keep as much rain out as possible.”
Other posts show photos from the area and a video of volunteer doctors performing a C-section.
Jeanne Chu said the group has not slept and is running low on food, water and supplies.
“They’re working around the clock. They’re rationing their own food and water.
A national news report said on Thursday that the group would have to begin turning patients away.
Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads and damaged airports.
Earlier this week, the United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst hit areas was a challenge.
“Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi.
The Salvation Army has emergency disaster service teams in the Philippines and are providing food, shelter, water and other services.
The organization, which has teams in the area year-round, are asking residents to donate funds to help. Capt. Justin Caldwell said 100 percent of the contributions will go directly to help those in need.
“The greatest need is monetary donations,” Caldwell said. “They have found in the past that monetary contribution is more cost effective because they’re able to decide what the need is,” Caldwell said.
He said nonperishable items are expensive to ship and officials can face delays in getting the items to the affected areas.
Paul Chu is expected to return home on Sunday.
His wife can’t wait.
She said the family was grateful to see him on his birthday on Wednesday on a national news report helping others.
“I just can’t express it. It’s pretty amazing what they’re doing,” Jeanne Chu said. “When you look at the devastation it’s heart wrenching. They’re using their training to help when no other rescue team has even made it. When I watch on TV and see the despair, it’s nice to know they’re out there helping and giving people hope.”
For more information about the Mammoth Medical Missions, visit the group’s Facebook page:
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
How to support typhoon releif efforts:
Salvation Army: Visit https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org/TyphoonHaiyan or call 1-800-725-2769 (100 percent of the donations will go toward the disaster relief in the Philippines.