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Three Singaporean students in devastated Philippine city still missing

Vanessa Chong Yuting, (second from left), Alyssa Chee Pui Yee (third from left), Eileen Heng Mei Ting (right). The three Singaporean students who were in Tacloban, Phillipines, when a deadly typhoon hit are safe and have contacted their families.&nbs
Vanessa Chong Yuting, (second from left), Alyssa Chee Pui Yee (third from left), Eileen Heng Mei Ting (right). The three Singaporean students who were in Tacloban, Phillipines, when a deadly typhoon hit are safe and have contacted their families. -- PHOTO: FAMILY OF VANESSA CHONG
From left to right: Alyssa Chee Pui Yee, Vanessa Chong Yuting, Eileen Heng Mei Ting. Three Singaporean students doing volunteer work in Tacloban, Philippines, have been uncontactable since Friday, when super Typhoon Haiyan hit the area. -- PHOTO
From left to right: Alyssa Chee Pui Yee, Vanessa Chong Yuting, Eileen Heng Mei Ting. Three Singaporean students doing volunteer work in Tacloban, Philippines, have been uncontactable since Friday, when super Typhoon Haiyan hit the area. -- PHOTO: AMELIA CHONG

Three Singaporean students doing volunteer work in Tacloban, Philippines, have been uncontactable since Friday, when super Typhoon Haiyan hit the area.

The trio - Ms Eileen Heng, Ms Alyssa Chee and Ms Vanessa Chong - are all 23-year-old final-year students at Flinders University, Australia. They had flown to Tacloban on Oct 20 for a month-long school project under Flinders to work with a local nonprofit, Volunteer for the Visayans, to tailor projects to combat hunger and improve food security in the area.

Ms Chong's younger sister, Ms Amelia Chong, told The Straits Times that her family last heard from Vanessa on Friday around 4.30am when she telephoned their mother. The phone call lasted for about five minutes before the line got cut off as the typhoon hit.

Ms Chee was last reached through text messages with her boyfriend, Mr Jeremy Liang, at around 6.30am on Friday. Family and friends have lost contact with her since.

"When the typhoon struck it seemed like they were all together in one of the houses of the locals," said Mr Liang. "She told me it was coming, I asked 'so how?' She said 'just run if no choice because there is nowhere else to go'. There was no mention of evacuation centres. That was the last contact we had."

The three Singaporeans lived with local host families, around Bliss, Tacloban City, which is a port-like area close to the water. Ms Heng and Ms Chee were paired up and hosted by a family by the last name Elogario, while Ms Chong was hosted by Joselito Penalosa. They were the only three Singaporeans in the international programme.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Sunday night that it is in contact with the girls' family members, and the Singapore embassy in Manila is working with the Philippine authorities to ascertain their safety. The ministry said on Monday morning that it had no updates.

Local officials estimate that Haiyan has left up to 10,000 dead in Tacloban, but the girls' families and friends are not giving up hope, and have appealed to media in the Philippines for help.

"We need the communications networks to be restored right now so that we can have communication with my sister," said the younger Miss Chong. "Action needs to be taken."