(Part 7) Super Typhoon Yutu in Tinian: The Aftermath and Stories of Resilience

Now that most of the midterm election coverage is over — I wanted to resume the Typhoon Yutu aftermath series starting with stories from Tinian residents.

I was in San Diego this past weekend, and I visited the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club, where a CNMI relief drive is taking place, to donate relief goods. It truly warms my heart to see all the relief efforts and donations from our mainland community.

Donations at Sons and Daughters of Guam Club. At the time I visited, Julie Jones, one of the organizers told me that a flood of families and people came to donate cases of water bottles, baby diapers, kitchen supplies, tarps, repellents, batteries and more.

The following series are documented stories from Florine Hofshneider of the island of Tinian — which was essentially the Bull’s Eye of Super Typhoon Yutu.

In the eye of the storm ….

“Are we going to die?” a three-year-old girl asked her mother.

“Give her chewing gum to release the pressure from her ears otherwise she will cry in pain,” the aunt said.

The monstrous typhoon Yutu, which hit the islands of Tinian and Saipan a few weeks ago, left a horrendous and devastating aftermath. Before the storm, people were lining up for gas, candles, canned goods, flashlights, batteries and of course the beloved rice. One of the ladies that Hofshneider met at a convenience store even said, “I’m on panic-shopping mode.”

Fully stocked cases of water. (Courtesy of Florine Hofshneider)

But despite the looming arrival of Yutu, there is optimism in the air. Everyone greeted each other with Hafa Adai, how are you, or Good morning. She also observed people asking each other if they had taken precaution or if they had boarded up their house.

“There was a genuine concern for everyone as much as no one was talking about the impending killer typhoon,” Hofshneider said. “There’s faith that everyone will be okay. Ai adai … puediha’ no?

Bathrooms in concrete homes were the safest place Tinian residents found refuge in. Doors were jammed, blown away and immediately replaced by anything they can find to protect the people from the deadly force of the winds.

Children gathered around a table with food during the aftermath of Typhoon Yutu. (Courtesy of Florine Hofshneider)

A family made up of three children — less than seven years old — and six other adult family members were huddled in their hallway with babies in the bathroom lying on alternative beds made with piled up pillows, sheets and blankets.

The family stayed there for hours listening to the cacophony of strong winds, flying debris hitting the roof and the walls and the sound of coconuts, breadfruits, lemons and other native produce falling outside their house.

The pressure of the wind was painful that everyone needed to constantly blow out by holding their noses to get rid of the pressure in their ears, Hofshneider recounted.

An aerial view of what’s left of Tinian after Typhoon Yutu’s monstrous attack. (Courtesy of Florine Hofshneider)
“There were many moments that my mind naturally recollected stories from my grandparents about how they could sense that a storm was approaching and how they prepared families for the destructive winds,” Hofshneider continued.

— the appearance of the cloud, the behavior of the birds and other wildlife, the shape of the moon, the ocean and the smell of the air combined were normally signals determining if a bad weather was approaching.

Frightening cacophony of wind, rain and other external sounds caused by typhoon Yutu

Now, she said, it’s understandable why grandmothers and the older generation before them would often say — “you need to be saving food, preserving food and setting aside resources for bad days like this.”

Old rags — no matter how old — must be washed and stored away. Gap-gap starch, tapioca starch, esuk (sun-dried breadfruit) must also be stored away. Dried meat and fish must be stored away — “perishable but must be preserved as best as you can,” Hofshneider said.

In a house of six people, the second floor’s windows exploded — popping like fire crackers. The furniture and bricks rolling and dragging across the second floor sounded like thunders coming from right above their head. Walls came crashing down, a loud sound that caused an uproar of screams from people below taking refuge.

The glass double-door of the house shook like someone was trying to break in with a Hulk-like strength as if the doors were on the verge of exploding.

Fallen trees and now-dilapidated houses on the island of Tinian. (Photos by Phil Mendiola-Long)

Hofshneider also recounted a story of a child with special needs. The child was bewildered and was not able to sleep due to the environment that somewhat felt alien to her. She was crying incessantly throughout the storm until exhaustion seeped in only to be recharged to cry again when the storm woke her up once more.

“There is no familiar place for me and my family now. I sleep at my job and my husband sleeps at his. Our job site has become the familiar and fairly safe home for us now.”
“The last three to four hours of the storm were the deadliest (hours of my life),” someone said. “I broke down and cried from fear. My heart was beating like it wanted to get out of my chest.”

The next day ….

Dawn had set in and the wind had subsided to the point that Tinian residents could slowly walk around to assess Yutu’s damages. Trees, debris, parts or roof, trees, clothes and every conceivable household items were strewn all over the yard.

Razor-blade sharp roofing tins had flown and cut trees and wrapped themselves around anything standing up. The forest was blanketed with roofing tins, debris, rags and diapers. Power lines were like strings hanging down from the poles; power poles were like toothpicks strewn all over the ground, she added.

Volunteers coming together to gather relief goods for Tinian residents. (Courtesy of Florine Hofshneider)

Extended families were reunited the next day and everyone showed genuine concern for each other. Hofshneider’s cousin opened up his home to feed anyone who needed to be fed, while another welcomed people to haul water and shower at his house which was near the island’s water source.

The rest had mobilized to help other folks in the island with emergency relief efforts through organizations like Tinian Women’s Association and Haya Foundation of Guam.

(to be continued …)

Part Eight of the series Tinian edition will be published tomorrow.