CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, Dr. Angel Cinco's niece and her two daughters went missing.
Cinco, a pathologist at Thomas Memorial Hospital, said his niece lives and operates a store in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan struck Leyte and surrounding islands a week ago, and the United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people have been impacted by the storm.
The death toll was estimated Wednesday between 2,000 and 2,500, according to Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, and is expected to rise as relief efforts continue.
"Last Sunday, I got the news from my brother, who lives in San Francisco, that they were safe," Cinco said is family members. "He told me they were able to run into the capitol building, one of the highest structures in the city, and it saved them from the water."
His niece and her daughters were traveling to a different city to stay with relatives, but he has heard no news from his many distant relatives because communication is so difficult right now.
"They're safe now, but all of their belongings are lost," he said.
Typhoon Haiyan is unofficially listed as the strongest recorded tropical cyclone to ever make landfall. At its peak, the storm had winds of 195 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
"The area is just like New Orleans -- it is beneath sea level," Cinco said. "It left part of it underwater, so I'm not surprised a large typhoon like this would have a massive amount of storm surge."
Cinco, who moved to the United States in 1968, said he visits the Philippines regularly with other doctors who are members of the Philippine Medical Association of West Virginia, and hopes he will be able to visit later this year. The PMA-WV has more than 100 registered members in the state.
The Republic of the Philippines is composed of more than 7,000 islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. According to Cinco, although the island of Leyte is one of the largest and was the most heavily impacted by the storm, many smaller islands and towns also were devastated.
"I remember watching CNN last night, and they were concentrated on that particular city [Tacloban]," Cinco said. "There were other towns that were other towns that were leveled. My island, Samar, is adjacent to Leyte, and Cebu. There were towns there that were destroyed."
Lea Grace Famularcano, a family physician in Hurricane who moved to West Virginia from the Philippines 11 years ago, said her family does not live in part of the archipelago affected by the typhoon but she has friends who were impacted by the disaster.
"I have a classmate who was affected. She is fine, but we're trying to help out her town. Our high school class is doing a fundraiser to help her town, which hasn't been in the news because Tacloban was the one that was hit the hardest," she said. "Other towns in the surrounding area aren't getting as much attention because everybody is focused on Tacloban, so our class is trying to help her area, too."
Famularcano and her husband are doctors at Spectrum Family Care PLLC, and members of PMA-WV. She said they plan to start a fundraising campaign for the Philippine Red Cross by raffling a "parol," a traditional Philippine Christmas lantern made from capiz seashells.