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Flathead Minister Recalls Trip to Philippines During Deadly Typhoon
Rick Latta was in Southeast Asia when November storm struck the region
Small bamboo huts were common in the villages Rick Latta visted on a recent trip to the Philippines. | Courtesy Photo
Anyone who has ever taken a trip knows that plans can change in an instance. Rick Latta, a Bigfork minister attending a conference in the Philippines last month, learned that first hand when one of the deadliest storms in recorded history made landfall on Nov. 8.

“I’ve never seen it rain like that before,” Latta said. “It was a new experience for me. I’ve never been through something like that.”

According to U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the Typhoon Haiyan hit land with sustained winds as high as 195 miles per hour and gusts as fast as 235 miles per hour, making it one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded; even more powerful than 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina. Last week, the death toll was more than 5,700, with 1,700 people still missing. The storm also inflicted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to the island nation’s infrastructure and economy.

Latta had arrived in the Philippines a few days earlier for a two-week visit, most of which would be dedicated to speaking at a ministries conference. Latta was a pastor in Kila starting in 1996 and he started Faithwalk Ministries in 2009. Latta’s trip was based in the City of General Santos, in the southern part of the country, with a population of 538,000 people. But while the city is the 15th most populated city in the country, the area Latta spent most of his time, the mountainous villages of the area, was quite the opposite.

When the storm came, most people hunkered down and waited for it to pass. While the locals are familiar with big storms, no one had ever seen a weather event like that.

“It was intense, but the rain only lasted about 24 hours,” he said. “It was constant and there was a fair amount of thunder and lightning.”

While the ministries conference continued, only one-third of the expected attendees were able to make it. After the conference, Latta joined one of the ministers who had invited him and ventured into the mountains where he was able to access some of the landscape. The area was spared the worst of the damage.

“It’s all bamboo and grass so there is not a lot to destroy,” he said. “The area I was in, the people dealt with it very well. There was no panic.”

Photos Latta brought back show huts and homes flattened by the storm and one church where only the bamboo frame remained. However, Latta said the people were still optimistic.

“They’re incredibly poor, but they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever met and they deal with life one day at a time, with whatever life throws at them,” he said.

While Latta spent some time helping villagers rebuild their homes and churches, he mostly brought medical supplies, which the villages didn’t have before the storm. In some cases, Latta was one of the first foreign visitors to venture into the villages.

Villagers drag supplies up a steep hill in the Philippines which was strunk by one of the worst typhoons in recorded history in November. | Courtesy Photo.

Latta said he hopes to return later this winter to help more of the villagers. In many cases, the people there do not have birth certificates or other paperwork and cannot receive government assistance.

He said he’s not sure he would have gone to the villages had the storm not hit, but in retrospect, he is glad he did.

“Nothing went as planned,” he said, “but God had different plans and it turned out for the better.”

For more information about Latta’s ministries and his upcoming trip, visit www.faithwalk-ministries.com.
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