Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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|Worst Natural Disaster in Texas History
Impacts Filipino Families
By Gus Mercado
“God please help me, am I going to die?” cried Albert Saligumba as he desperately hanged on for dear life on the rooftop of
his submerged home on Tiki Island, near Galveston Texas. As the flood waters kept getting higher and darkness continued
to descend on the second day of his being trapped on the roof of his house, wet and cold from the wind-swept rain, alone
with no food and no means of communicating with other people, he prayed as he prepared to die. He only survived by
staying awake and drinking rain water that fell in massive doses on the entire island. By dawn, the water stopped rising
and he was rescued. The year has not been kind to the 62-year old Filipino widower, who only last March lost his new bride,
Dr. Marilie Evangelista-Saligumba in a freak vehicular accident on Interstate 45 which connects Houston to Dallas and
Oklahoma. He was driving a truck full of Balikbayan boxes when he lost control of the vehicle and swerved into the trees,
killing his wife almost instantly.
Always thinking of others even if his own house was severely damaged and without flood insurance to fall back on, Albert
evacuated to Dallas, about 250 miles north of Houston, met with his friends in the Philippine American Chamber of
Commerce (PACC) Dallas Chapter and collected bags of relief goods which he later distributed to his neighbors in
There were other Filipinos who survived the killer hurricane who had similar horrific stories to tell. Many were reported to
have lost their homes, after the catastrophic flooding that came in the aftermath of the hurricane was accompanied by six
tornadoes that destroyed everything in their paths. Approximately 7,000 homes owned by Filipino families were damaged,
many of them without flood insurance.
The Filipinos have an uncanny ability to survive natural disasters, most of them having personally experienced the wrath of
killer typhoons, earthquakes and massive floods in their own home provinces in the Philippines. About 70,000 Filipinos live
in Houston and neighboring cities that were also hit. By the grace of God, there were no reported casualties among them.
There were also no reports of Filipinos being admitted at the major hospitals for serious injuries. The only reported cases
of losses by Filipinos was damage to their homes, vehicles and properties, and loss of power for many days. They also
now worry about contaminated water and chemical spills.
Concerned Filipino Texans to the Rescue
Filipino organizations in Texas showed that they cared deeply about the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Philippine
American Chamber of Commerce of Texas with strong chapters in Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley was one of
the first to provide rapid response to the calamity. The North Texas chapter of PACC Texas quickly offered the safety of their
homes to Filipinos in south and central Texas even before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Chapter Chairperson Myrna
Carreon announced the collection of relief goods and plans for fund-raisers to assist with the rescue and rehabilitation of
the hurricane victims. Filipino-owned Datalogix Texas Inc., a major AT&T telecommunications contractor, fielded its San-
Antonio based cell tower engineers to the affected cities, delivering generators to areas that had lost electricity and cell
power, and fixing damaged tower sites, or replacing downed towers with Cellsites on Wheels (COWs).
The Dallas-based Honorary Consulate headed by Honorary Consul Ethel R. Mercado is monitoring the situation round-the-
clock, reaching out to Filipinos in the devastated areas and regularly updating the Philippine government officials through
the consulate general in Los Angeles. The Honorary Consulate also fields dozens of phone calls every day inquiring about
the hurricane and how it has affected Filipinos in the region. Some are trying to locate relatives and friends who may have
The officers of the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce of the Rio Grande Valley led by Rev. Merpu Roaquickly
volunteered to join the Mayor’s Emergency Rescue Task Force. Jennifer Cleveland and Leah Theys reported that the PACC
RGV Chapter, working closely with Filipino business establishments and churches, mobilized their members and
established relief goods collection centers at strategic locations in Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen in the Rio Grande
Valley. PACC officials are especially focused on helping Filipino victims in the very hard-hit cities of Rockport and Port
Aransas. Last Sunday, the RGV Filipino volunteers brought hundreds of bags of relief goods to the First Community Church
in Corpus Christi, a largely Filipino church, and along with the Filipino Association of Corpus Christi, attended a
thanksgiving mass and distributed the relief goods to Filipino church members who were impacted by the hurricane. Our
RGV “heroes” are encouraged by the massive outpouring of sympathy and donations.
Filipino community leaders in Houston who are themselves victims of the worst calamity ever seen in this, the fourth largest
city in the U.S. and were virtual prisoners in their own homes for many days, did not take long to also mobilize and organize
relief efforts. After evacuating his family, Philippine American Chamber Houston Chapter Chairman Ricky Guinhawa joined
the storm-chasing team of his company, Centerpoint, which is the biggest supplier of electricity in metropolitan Houston.
Their job was to survey all the communities that lost power and to monitor power restoration efforts. PACC Texas president
Gary Ilagan braved the elements and showed up at his law firm by himself as the entire downtown Houston was flooded.
He also offered free legal services to Filipino victims of the deadly hurricane who may qualify for the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief for Immigrants.
Young Filipinos volunteered at their schools, churches and civic groups to assist with distribution of relief goods at
evacuation shelters. Anthony Guevara, southern region chair of NaFFAA and the Filipino Young Professionals of Houston
believes the spirit of community will carry the people of Houston through these challenging times. He said, “In Houston, the
spirit of unity and collective action — bayanihan — can be seen in the selfless efforts of state and local officials, law
enforcement and plain citizens as they begin to rebuild. National co-director of partnerships for NaFFAA Christy Panis
Poisot added, “While many are experiencing loss and tragedy at this time, I have never been more proud to be a
Houstonian.” Pinoy Houston TV also monitored the calamity, issued public service announcements and posted the
locations of evacuation centers and relief goods drop-off points. Fil-Am groups in Houston and other cities are pitching in.
The tragedy has united the Filipino community in Texas in a way that has never been seen before in this state of almost
200,000 Filipinos. The most active Filipino organization in the state, the PACC Texas, has made a clarion call for unity and
collective action. Buoyed by overwhelming sympathy and tremendous enthusiasm for support generated by the disaster
nationwide, leaders are brainstorming programs that will benefit the victims, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos. Filipinos from
Dallas, Tyler, San Antonio, McAllen, Brownsville and Austin are sponsoring benefit concerts featuring the Madrigal Singers
to raise funds for Hurricane Harvey victims.
Gus Mercado has been a Filipino community leader in Texas for 35 years. He is currently state executive director of PACC
Texas, chair emeritus of NaFFAA Region VI, and chairman-CEO of Datalogix Texas Inc. He is a recipient of the prestigious
Presidential Banaag Award in 2014.