Every summer on Saipan, where I’m from, is typhoon season. We always get mild tropical storms and are used to it, even in the more extreme moments, so we weren’t expecting anything different in the summer of 2015.
Weather charts and forecasters predicted that the incoming storm was going to pass us by, but towards the evening that day the storm unexpectedly took a different route and the eye of the storm passed over the island. By midnight or so, it was directly above us. That’s when it really devastated us. Because the storm was so unexpected, nobody was prepared for it. Nobody stocked up on supplies, barricaded the windows, put their cars away, etc.
I know it took my family and me by surprise. I remember not being able to sleep because of the howling wind. I’ve never heard anything like it. The rain was torrential, the roads were flooding, power lines destroyed, and old palms trees were falling everywhere from the onslaught. There was one tree that fell right behind our car, almost hitting it, and all we could do was acknowledge how lucky we were that it didn’t crush the vehicle. The flooding was so bad it started seeping into our home, so we laid down extra towels and rugs, but the wind kept blowing more water in. We secured our doorway in hopes it wouldn’t fly off. I stayed up that whole night waiting for the storm to die down.
Once the sun rose, we got a real view into how bad the storm had hit. You could see debris all over the pathways. The road coming to my house was blocked by trees. Our house had trees in front of it. Again, thankfully, none hit our house.
I know for some people their houses were completely destroyed. I was talking to my friend after and he said his family ended up crouching under the kitchen counter because that was the only thing left standing during the storm.
Just going outside and seeing the devastation, it seemed as though we had gone through war. Everyone wandered the island during those first hours of the morning to see what happened. My mom, after the path was cleared to our home, took my brother and me on a drive through the island.
The feeling of seeing your home destroyed is something that is indescribable. You have this deep sorrow you feel for everybody who lives with you in this community. My family was so lucky, we still had our house and car, enough food for the next week or two, but some families weren’t.
Since the typhoon was so devastating, the airport wasn’t available, blocking planes from coming in for help. It even took a while for help by ship to come. We get everything imported so that really effected the island.
Of course everyone rushed to grocery stores and supermarkets, and by the time my family got to one, most of the shelves were empty.
Because it’s such a small island, there are only four gas stations. One company shut down their stations, so we were dependent on the other two stations. Cars were lined up for hours waiting. Eventually people began fighting each other for the gas. They were in a survivalist mentality.
A lot of people, including myself, didn’t have power or running water for months. I remember the typhoon happening in July and in my village we got our power back around early December. It was hard. When the airport reopened and outside help began coming in, there were services such as Red Cross and FEMA, etc, but there were people who needed it the most that didn’t get it because they were “unqualified” by not being a US citizen and many who received aid that could have lived without it. I remember my best friend volunteering for Red Cross and she was answering phones to help deliver, she decided who needed help. There were people calling in about a broken tv asking for a new one versus those calling about their house being blown away. There were so many people abusing the system. It was just like everyone was out for themselves, whatever it took.
During recovery of the typhoon, my days were spent reading books until the sun set then struggling to sleep at night because I was scared about how scarce our supplies were. We ate as little as possible to make everything last. I would stay up at night and have panic attacks, just waiting ‘til the sun came up to immerse myself in another book, another world.
It was such a harrowing experience to see my own home destroyed and my people without homes or food.
After we got our electricity and running water back, the shelves and super markets began refilling, but I didn’t want to talk about the typhoon. It’s only this year that I’ve opened up to talking about it.
Everyone found a sense of community once help started coming because they didn’t need to fight over the depleting supplies. Once the new year came and we had electricity and water, it felt like a revival. We made it through. It felt as though we all, as a community, got through a disaster that we weren’t able to control.
What was sad is that we didn’t get much coverage. We are a U.S. territory, I was expecting to at least see news articles about the event, but there really wasn’t any.
I think the island has fully recovered, we picked up where we left off. There’s been a revival of industry with new businesses flourishing and beautiful buildings. Although, in my opinion, I think with all of the nature and trees and all of the foliage that was lost in the storm, I don’t think the island will ever be as beautiful as it once was. I am sad for the tourists who come in and will never be able to see what the island was, they’ll never see the island at its most beautiful state.
I still get anxiety when storms pass here in Nevada. I know they are minor, but whenever there is thunder or rain I get worried. One time I was walking from my dorms to class and it was raining, there was lightning and thunder, and I had this overwhelming fear that a huge storm was coming, but it’s Nevada, so the storms was like ten minutes.
I am thankful for my friends and extended family because without them we wouldn’t have gotten out of the typhoon, we were all swapping supplies for survival. I’m thankful for my puppies – they were so good and cute during this period of chaos, my boyfriend who helps me through a lot of things, that I’m living in Reno because I feel like everything that I could do back at home was done, coffee.. chocolate coffee.. iced mocha is my thing, pizza, chocolate chip cookies, beanies and coats because I’ve never experienced fall, heaters, the opportunity to experience snow, and my warm fuzzy socks that have cats on them.