A group of doctors from the Mammoth Lakes area was among the first humanitarian aid groups to reach the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which is believed to have killed about 10,000 people as it moved across the island nation Friday.
Sixteen doctors, surgeons and medical volunteers with the Mammoth Medical Missions were at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning on their way to a previously scheduled project in Chiapas, Mexico, when they learned about the devastating typhoon, said Pamela Bold, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit relief group based in Mammoth Lakes.
After consulting with the Philippine Red Cross and other aid groups, they quickly changed their flights for Manila. By Saturday afternoon, they had arrived and were at an air force base boarding a C130 cargo flight with the 505th Air Wing of the Philippine Air Force. At last report, their destination was Tacloban City, one of the areas most devastated by a 13-foot storm surge that reports say left few structures standing.
More than 1,000 people in Tacloban City had been reported dead before official search and rescue operations had begun Saturday, according to an email sent by the group’s chief executive, Michael Karch, an orthopedic surgeon at Mammoth Hospital and team physician with the United States ski team.
“There are few times in life when you make a swift, heartfelt decision because you know it’s the right thing to do, even if it means sacrifice, uncertainty and potential danger,” Karch said in a statement released by the group.
The group has three surgical teams, more than 30 crates of medical supplies and a mobile surgical tent, Bold said. Many of the doctors and the medical team work at Mammoth Hospital and are expected to lead triage operations when they arrive on the ground.
With the team is Bold’s husband, James, a physician's assistant at Mammoth Hospital, and their 16-year-old son Carson, who volunteered with the group on a medical mission to Mexico two years ago.
“When this came up, I said: Are you ready for this?” Bold recalled telling her son Friday. “This is what he wants to do.”
The group is expected to be there for at least a week and will send reports on their work daily via satellite phone and the group’s Facebook page, Pamela Bold said.