On Wednesday night October 24, 2018 through the late morning of Thursday October 25, 2018, Saipan and Tinian, two islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, were hit by Super Typhoon Yutu. The storm grew from a category 1 typhoon to a category 5 typhoon in less than 24 hours and pounded the islands with sustained winds of 180 mph for 3 hours and gusts up to 220 mph (possibly as high as 230mp according to some reports), though the exact wind speeds are still undetermined due to the weather instruments at the airport breaking before the peak of the storm hit. It was the second strongest storm to ever hit US soil. As the eyewall hit the southern part of the island, where my family was taking shelter, I could feel my ears popping from the pressure change, as if in an airplane. Lightening flashed and the wind howled with a ferocity I could never have imagined and never want to experience again. My husband and I decided to seek shelter at a hotel the night of the storm because, having just recently moved back, we did not yet have a generator and anticipated the power going out as it did in the previous storm, Typhoon Manghkut a few weeks earlier. As we huddled in the bathtub under a mattress, we could hear the tiles being torn off the ceiling and watch the interior walls pull away from each other as the concrete building groaned under the force of the wind. There were times it even felt as if the wind and pressure were going to pull the concrete roof off the building itself. When morning finally arrived and the winds began to subside after 7 hours of over 100mph to tropical storm force, we were thankful to have had all the doors, windows, and ceiling hold. I was astonished to see the floor covered with about an inch of water, mud, and leaves that were pushed through the cracks between the door and frame by the wind. However, it was what I saw when I looked outside for the first time that made my heart drop and brought tears to my eyes. Devastation. Full grown flame trees were pulled out of the ground at their roots. Tiles from the roofs and pieces of the buildings covered the ground. The railing to the stairs was ripped out of the concrete. Our car survived with a broken window, scratches, and dents, but was drivable. However, as we slowly made our way home, the reality of the force of the storm revealed itself. It was quickly obvious that many others had not been as fortunate through the night. Houses were without roofs, power poles were down, and cars were blown across parking lots. What also struck me was the almost complete absence of green. Our lush tropical island was mud, concrete, tin, and broken branches. In the days and hours that followed, news came out that 1 individual had lost her life and 133 people were treated at the hospital during the storm. Power is out island-wide and there is no running water. In the days to follow, we’ve heard estimates that it will take 3 to 6 months to restore electricity and running water to the entire island. Many individuals and families, especially where the eyewall passed, have lost their homes and possessions, including food, clothes, and water. Many stay in shelters or with family and some are living out of tents. Most of the schools have sustained significant damage and are not likely to open anytime in the near future. Unlike natural disasters that occur on a mainland region, on an island there is nowhere the residents of Saipan can go to seek refuge until their homes are rebuilt. In the first few days after the storm the airport was shut down except for emergency flights and, once open, the limited number and high cost of flights prohibit most people from leaving. We are here to stay and to rebuild. So, in the meantime, people and communities are coming together to help one another with water, food, and shelter. The local utility company has been working non-stop, and the military, aid and relief workers, and staff from the Guam utility company have been providing much needed help. It will be a long time that this beautiful island will be working towards recovery. The hearts of the people here are strong, though, and their commitment to each other is unwavering and resilient. With time and hard work we will rebuild. With love we will always find our paradise.
The islands of Saipan and Tinian are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is a commonwealth of the United States, similar to the US Virgin Islands. With limited media coverage out of the island, many fellow Americans are not aware that this storm occurred much less the conditions we now face. During the rebuilding process, any donations to help the residents of the islands would be beyond appreciated. If you are interested in donating, listed below are some links to organizations that are part of the relief effort. Thank you for any support you can provide.
United 4 Saipan/Marianas Young Professionals Go Fund Me page: https://www.gofundme.com/super-typhoon-yutu-relief-campaign
Red Cross: redcross.org, call 1800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation
Salvation Army: hawaii.salvationarmy.org