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Former homeless man's desperate search for wife, child in Philippines

By Josh Levs, CNN
updated 2:40 PM EST, Wed November 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Talley's wife and child were in Guiuan, where Haiyan made its first landfall
  • Talley is trying everything he can think of to make contact with Rose, his wife
  • He is concerned his 3-year-old might end up homeless, as he once was

Are you looking for loved ones in the Philippines? Send your story to CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- William Talley sits in front of his computer for hours, clicking on every photo he can find online from the wreckage of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Stuck 8,000 miles away in Tennessee, he has no other way of searching for his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

"What keeps running through my mind now is my baby calling my name -- 'papa, papa, papa,'" he says.

Talley, his wife Rose, and their child Wilrose live in Guiuan, the tropical paradise where Typhoon Haiyan made its first landfall. The area was devastated.

"I built a house there last year on an island outside of the city. I imagine everything is gone," he says.

His imagination may be right. "It's total damage -- 100% damage," Guiuan Mayor Christopher Gonzales has said. Almost all of the community's 50,000 people were left homeless.

"Everything is gone," said one resident.

Talley is trying everything he can think of to make contact with Rose -- dialing all sorts of numbers in Guiuan, calling friends and contacts elsewhere in the Philippines, and using the online tools designed to help people find loved ones. So far, no luck.

"It hurts. It hurts badly," he says.

"I'm really worried for them. And if something has happened to my wife, the mother of my child, then who's going to be there to look after my child? I'm going to lose contact with my daughter altogether."

Talley's anguish is shared by thousands of others across the globe in the wake of Haiyan. With more than 2,000 people declared dead, more than 3,000 injured, and many more struggling without necessities, families around the world are in a state of desperation, praying for the best and fearing the worst.

Faces of the storm

But Talley, 40, has another worry that few others can associate with. He was homeless at one point in his life, and "grew up on the streets of Los Angeles."

"That's why I'm so concerned for my child," he says. "I don't want my child to have to live like I did."

In a CNN iReport, Talley -- a former firefighter -- asked anyone with a relief effort under way to take him along. "I want to be there and aid in the relief efforts. Using the skills I possess to help injured, lost, and homeless; as well as establish communications so that many can be informed of the well-being of their families, who are displaced in outlying areas. I need to be there for my family as well and will do all I can to make sure this happens."

But even if that were possible, Talley faces another big obstacle: the reason he's in Tennessee.

Talley suffers from ankle and knee injuries, and is awaiting a knee replacement. He's been in Gallatin, just outside Nashville, for four months, working with his doctor and awaiting surgery.

The ankle injury stems from 2008, when he was working with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. He was part of its Division of Forestry and Wildland Fire Management. On one windy day, he was cutting down a tree in Whiteriver, Arizona. It fell onto his foot, shattering his ankle.

Talley was unable to continue his job. He has received Supplemental Security Income ever since.

He met his wife, now 41, online. He traveled to the Philippines to meet her in person. She grew up poor, on an island where there's a large coconut plantation. Members of her family were fishermen and farmers. When Talley met Rose, she worked as a cashier.

They ended up getting married and combining their first names into one for their daughter, Wilrose.

Talley built their small home, about 30 feet by 30 feet, out of concrete and hollow block. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room.

Last year, he crashed his motorcycle and broke his knee -- on the same leg as the ankle injury, his right.

Talley last spoke with Rose 11 days ago.

"I told her how much I missed her, and how much I love them and my baby," he says.

"It's terrible. I can't focus," Talley adds. "I go to the doctor today and I'm going to tell him to give me a steroid shot and joint fluid because I know what I'm going to have to do. I'm going to have to make my way to the Philippines."

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