It has now been two weeks since the night Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan and Tinian. While the relief efforts and hard work of the utility company has been tremendous, most of the island is still without power or running water. In addition, thousands of families are without homes. Many stay with family members and some are staying in shelters set up in what remains of the schools. In the first few days following the storm, there was an uncertainty and hesitancy in the air as people tried to assess the situation and get an account of the resources that were still available. Many of the residents, including a number of my friends, had been living on the island in 2015 when Typhoon Sodelor hit and knocked out power for up to 3 months in some villages. That experience most certainly prepared the public and the power company for the aftermath of Yutu, because their response this time was immediate and productive. Only a few hours after the storm, before the winds had even completely died down, the utility crews were out clearing the roads and assessing the damages. Within a few days the hospital and neighboring houses had power and water. Access to the grid has been much slower for the rest of us. However, this time around people have knowledge and experience. On those initial days, my main concern was to make sure my family had drinking and cleaning water, fuel for the car, and power in our phone, as well as access to each of these as they diminished. I made brief and hurried messages to friends and family on my phone. Planned every trip carefully so as not to need to retrace my path and use up gas unnecessarily. Rationed water to prevent waste in any way possible. Luckily, I had experience and advice from friends to reassure me that the multi-mile long fuel lines in which people waited for hours at a time would disappear after a few days. The network of friends also send around updates on stores, gas stations, and banks that slowly opened, as well as where drinking water was available and when non-potable water stations were being set up. Slowly, routines began to form for many families. Start the day in the water line, move on to the gas line, and back into another line for water to use to clean and bath. Somewhere in between, find food to eat for meals and begin to clear the debris from houses and yards. Tin from roofs and building structures, as well as the contents of houses, such as mattresses and clothing, littered yards and roads. Most of what could be salvaged was wet from the rain that came with the storm and needed to be laid out in the sun to dry before it became moldy in the humid air. The skies were often cloudy and threatened rain, but, thankfully, remained dry. My house lost a window and a door in our bedroom, which resulted in the room looking as if a tornado struck. The mattress was ruined, furniture turned upside down, and most of our clothing wet, some torn to shreds. The amazing part, though was how one object would be soaked while the object next to it would be untouched. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason as to why one thing was destroyed and another saved. I believe many felt the same way about the destruction, or preservation, of their house compared to their neighbors’ homes. Many times, nothing but chance destroyed one and saved the other.
As routines developed though, a sense of normalcy began to creep in. The intense darkness at night, though we were blessed with a nearly full moon the first few day after, began to seem less dark. The heat of the day began to feel less intense. Physical labor of hauling sheets of tin and broken wooden beams across yards began to feel therapeutic. Even laundry, which initially made me feel defeated as I laid out clothing after clothing on the branches of our broken tree and across rope stung up for a makeshift clothes line, began to feel rewarding. We were all making things happen in any way we could. Even if it was just turning dirty clothing into clean clothes with our own two hands and a frugal amount of water. Friends were helping friends who had lost more and people were out volunteering in villages across the island. Slowly, piece by piece, we are rebuilding our island, our homes, and our hearts.