11/11/2013 12:05 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Philippines Typhoon 2013: Harper Offers Condolences To Philippines President

TORONTO - Anxious members of Canada's Filipino community faced daunting logistical challenges as they scrambled on Monday to collect cash and relief supplies for victims of last week's catastrophic typhoon.

The biggest problem, said one spokeswoman, was the cost and difficulty of getting the supplies to the Philippines, where food shortages are compounding already unfathomable misery.

"It's really very overwhelming," said Rosemer Enverga with Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Toronto.

"By the day, it's getting worse."

While the true scale of devastation from typhoon Haiyan has yet to emerge, some estimates put the death toll in the thousands, with hundreds of thousands badly affected.

As volunteers packed boxes of canned food, clothing, blankets and other supplies at the church, Enverga noted it would take well over a month to get the goods to where they are desperately needed.

The problem, she said, is air freight is prohibitively expensive, leaving sea shipment as the only option. However, even sea freight is expensive, and many companies are already at capacity in anticipation of the Christmas rush.

"It would be nice if an airline could sponsor," Enverga said.

"We're still praying and keeping our fingers crossed that somebody with good heart and generous enough will sponsor the shipment costs."

Given the cost of shipping supplies, the Red Cross said cash was the best way to help because money would allow the Philippines Red Cross to identify needed supplies and source them more cheaply.

The relief agency had already raised close to $3 million in donations, spokesman Guy LePage said Monday afternoon.

"People are being very generous," said LePage, who noted the true scope of the disaster has yet to emerge.

"This is going to be a long-term recovery program."

In addition, the Canadian Red Cross was set to deploy a mobile hospital that would offer basic health-care services in conjunction with its Norwegian and Hong Kong counterparts, LePage said.

The unit would be able to care for 20 people at a time, he said.

Canadians who want to donate through the Red Cross can do so via www.redcross.ca and designate typhoon Haiyan. They can also donate $5 by texting redcross at 30333.

The Canadian government has pledged $5 million in relief and offered to match Canadians' donations dollar for dollar.

The Ontario government announced Monday it would donate $1 million via the Red Cross.

Rosemary McCarney, president of Plan Canada, which has been on the ground in the Philippines for decades and is prepared to respond quickly, said the scale of the disaster is "off the charts."

"People are just saying, 'Everything is gone, there's nothing left'," McCarney said.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced Monday that Canada would deploy a disaster-response team to assess the needs on the ground and identify relief options.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Philippines President Benigno Aquino to express condolences and offer support.

Pastor Levi Estores at the Vancouver Filipino Seventh-Day Adventist Church said he has been trying for days to reach his mother, two brothers and sister.

All he knows is that a brother's home was destroyed.

"It's heartbreaking," Estores said. "As a pastor, you have to comfort your people but this time, it’s quite difficult to comfort them when you yourself need comfort."

As many as 200,000 Filipinos in the Toronto area have been affected by the disaster, said Filipino-Canadian Martha Joy, who is planning a series of fundraising concerts. The first will be held Nov. 22 in the city's east end.

Joy, who was 8th in the 2007 "Canadian Idol," said the concerts were the least she could do.

-With a file from Vivian Luk in Vancouver

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