After Witnessing Tragedy from Typhoon Haiyan, Aaron Mischel Launches the Hospitality for Hope Campaign to Help Those in the Philippines
By Sally Gillie
(Seattle, WA, November 14, 2013) As the world watches the heartbreaking aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Electric Mirror Vice President Aaron Mischel feels a personal connection that comes from narrowly missing being part of the tragedy that’s already claimed more than 2,700 lives.
Satellite View of Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines.[/caption]Mischel, who had never traveled in Asia before last week, found himself in Cebu City in the Philippines on November 8th when the massive typhoon struck, bringing gale force winds in excess of 230 miles per hour and leveling the city of Tacloban on a neighboring island.
Mischel and Ella Chang, from Electric Mirror’s Hong Kong office, were attending HI Design 2013, a hospitality conference at the Shangri-La Hotel in Cebu when they learned of the approaching storm. “We were told that strong winds were coming through to the north,” said Mischel. He remembered tracking the storm for himself online and not liking what he saw. “I was thinking, ‘it looks like it’s going to nail us,’” he said.
The Shangri-La, a six-story luxury hotel near the Pacific shoreline, began going into storm preparation mode, with hotel staff closing shutters, taping over windows and covering glass chandeliers. They were told to expect the storm to hit the following day at about 2 pm, but Mischel said he was not surprised when things happened much sooner. “It was moving so fast,” he said, “I stayed awake that night, because I didn’t want to be caught in panic-mode.”
He said the sound of the wind was something he won’t soon forget, “it was a noise that just freaked me out,” he said. That night he looked out and saw palm trees flying through the air from his fifth floor window. “I thanked God my room was on the inside,” he said. “Usually I try to get an ocean view, but this time I didn’t.”
Aaron said curiosity about the storm made him try to head outside to get a better sense of what was happening. In the second floor lobby, hotel security personnel were guarding the doors, but Aaron went down to the first floor and found a door leading outside. “It was closed so tight I thought it was locked,” he said, “but it was just the force of the wind.” He managed to open the door and take a few steps outside before he was knocked down flat. He said that was all the convincing he needed to go back to his room.
By 9 a.m. the next morning, early reports of one of the worst recorded typhoons in history began trickling in. “We were initially told that there were only three or four deaths,” said Aaron. Later he would learn the toll was much higher. On the advice of brother Jim, Aaron did go out and bring in cases of water just in case. And though there was talk of food shortages, his hotel wasn’t affected. The next day, he was able to fly out of the Cebu airport, his flight only delayed a few hours. But later that day all of the airports closed down due to the country’s security systems going offline.
Now safely back home and behind his desk at Electric Mirror’s home office in Seattle, Washington, Aaron said the whole episode has a dream-like feel to it. “I truly believe I was blessed… I know God was taking care of me,” he said. In return he’s determined to reach out and help. “I talked to Jim about this and told him, ‘we need to do something – and he agreed.’”
Starting immediately, Electric Mirror is launching the Hospitality for Hope campaign to mobilize the hospitality industry, starting with those who were with Aaron in Cebu City last week. Funds will go to support Medical Teams International, a Christian-based health-organization that has already sent a team of medical volunteers with much-needed supplies to the area.
Even before the typhoon hit, Aaron said there was something very special about the Philippines that made him want to reach out to the people living in conditions that to us would seem very poor. “These are people that are so family centered, children everywhere, yet are living in conditions really poor by our standards. Yet they are so friendly, they’re providers” he said. “I truly believe we as Americans can learn something from them. I would like to visit with my children someday soon.”