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LDS Church makes contact with Tacloban mission; families await word

By Sandra Yi  |  Posted Nov 10th, 2013 @ 7:12pm


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TOOELE — Some families in Utah Saturday were still anxiously awaiting word about their loved ones who were in the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan hit the country Friday.

A Tooele family has a daughter serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near the city of Tacloban — the area hardest hit by the storm — and as of Saturday afternoon she and dozens of other missionaries remained unaccounted for.

But late Saturday night, the LDS Church issued a statement saying "approximately two-thirds of the missionaries in the Tacloban mission have been contacted and are well. We know that each missionary was provided a 72-hour kit, were moved to safe locations before the storm, and are in areas that were less impacted than the city of Tacloban."

It's unknown if Sara Webber, a 20-year-old missionary from Tooele, is among those safe and accounted for. Her family said she was only a month into her mission when the storm hit, and that she was overjoyed to be there.

"We've had about four to five emails from her since she's been in the Philippines," said Gidget Webber, Sara's mother. "She was happy as a lark, really just adjusting."

The 20-year-old's last email came on Sunday night. There was no mention of the impending storm that would soon devastate the islands, and she closed by saying, "I love the Philippines."

Now, images of Haiyan's aftermath haunt Gidget Webber and her husband, Jim, who have been waiting for any word about Sara. They said she was living in Carigara, about 23 miles from Tacloban City.

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"There's really no option other than satellite phones right now," Jim Webber said.

The concerned father said he has been talking to an area representative in Manila, who has a satellite phone.

"He informed me that basically, as of right now, there's 80 missionaries that are not yet accounted for in the Tacloban mission," Jim Webber said.

"He told me that there was no reason to think they weren't safe, that they were moved appropriately from the apartments they were in," he said.

A spokesman for LDS Church said the church has had contact with 20 of the 21 mission presidents in the Philippines. In the Saturday night statement, the church said there are "still some areas where communication has not been re-established" in the Tacloban mission, but it will work to provide updates as soon as they are available.

Meanwhile, the Webber family is getting support from friends and neighbors. Many gathered to tie purple ribbons representing royalty and Tooele pride outside their home.

"I know that we're not alone in this feeling right now, and there are many, many worried parents out there," Gidget Webber said.

As they await word about their daughter, she and her husband called on people of all faiths to pray for the people in the Philippines.

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