The typhoon that tore a devastating path through the Philippines also left a gaping hole in Maribel and Paul Barton's family.
The couple learned earlier this week that Maribel's two sisters, three nieces and two nephews were among the thousands who died when Typhoon Haiyan hit Maribel's hometown of Tacloban, destroying at least 70 percent of the structures in the area.
As the close-knit family grieves, they also are working desperately to figure out how to get money and help to the surviving members of their family, who they fear are stranded with thousands of other survivors struggling to find food, shelter and water.
"We want to do that when we can, but there's no place to send the money right now," said Paul, who lives with Maribel and their three children in Kapolei, Hawaii.
The Filipino economy is already heavily dependent on money that family members living abroad send home, and some experts expect those payments—called remittances—will play an even bigger role as the nation recovers from the typhoon.
"In times of natural disaster, remittances are one of the first forms of help that rushes in," said Dilip Ratha, manager of migration and remittances for the World Bank's development prospects group.
Even before the typhoon, the World Bank estimated that remittances would contribute about $26 billion to the Filipino economy in 2013, which Ratha said accounts for about 10 percent of the nation's total GDP.
"Remittances have a huge impact in the Philippines," said Murray Hiebert, deputy director in the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
(Read more: How you can help typhoon survivors)
Josh Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia with the Council on Foreign Relations, said payments from family members abroad are a key part of the economy because the Philippines has a rapidly growing population of relatively educated people but few good job prospects. That means many Filipinos travel abroad to different countries—including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Canada and elsewhere—in search of work.
Once overseas, experts say it's common for devoted family members to send as much money as they can back home, for everything from basic needs such as food and shelter to help in starting a small business.
When disaster strikes, Ratha said, even domestic workers who earn little will often try to send more money as quickly as they can—even if that means borrowing from friends or employers, or selling possessions. When a 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, another country heavily dependent on remittances, the World Bank estimated that remittances would surge by 20 percent because of the disaster.
The cash those family members send can be a lifeline in a crisis. That's why Ratha thinks it's important to think not just about getting essentials to the region but also about ensuring that there is safe access to banking institutions.
"Remittances [are] almost the first form of help that arrives, and yet we don't think about providing remittance services—access to remittance services—as a component of our relief response," Ratha said.