I tried to sleep–after all it was 1:30 a.m., but the roar of the wind and the thought of the Super Typhoon raging outside made that task virtually impossible. Just as I was about to doze off there was a loud crash! Dany Goris, our P.E. teacher, and I walked out into the hallway of Asia Gardens Apartments, where we live on the third floor with eight other teachers from the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School, and there on the hallway floor were pieces of glass from one of the windows that had caved in to the pressure from the storm. Shards of glass had exploded everywhere!
We surveyed the damage. “The demons are howling tonight,” I yelled over the screech of Typhoon Yutu, and to be honest it sounded like demons to me. We soon realized that there was little that we could accomplish and returned to our apartments to rest as much as possible. For many of us on the island of Saipan, sleep deprivation was the least of our worries.
While my apartment stayed relatively dry and undamaged by Yutu’s category 5 winds, just across the hall, Virle, our school accountant, and Joey, a preschool teacher, were bailing out water all night long just to keep from being totally flooded out. They employed an ingenious method, forming canals with their clothes and towels that funneled the rivers of water pouring into the apartment to the floor drains. Other residents fought throughout the night to keep windows and doors from breaking in or tried to keep valuables from being destroyed by the wind and the rain that would not be denied entry into their homes. Many buildings succumbed to the violence of Yutu on that long, noisy night.
So began a difficult and challenging time for the people of Saipan and Tinian. By the time Typhoon Yutu had spun its way westward, leaving a trail of devastation in its path, it had produced the highest winds of any storm in 2018, with gusts over 200 miles per hour, was the second most powerful storm in United States history; and we were left in stunned silence trying to sort out what Yutu had just done to us.
What Yutu had done was: blow down thousands of trees, hundreds of telephone poles and power lines; destroyed or severely damaged hundreds of homes, businesses, churches, schools and vehicles; and left two people dead. Yutu left thousands of residents without shelter, electricity, running water, and with a shortage of food. Some homes went without power for five months. Some people still do not have shelter because their homes were so badly damaged that they have to be completely rebuild.
Through all this our school was blessed. You may question my assessment as you look at the pictures. But although we sustained severe damage to our grounds, staff housing and the awning covering our chapel area, the school itself was spared major damage.
Still, it took our team–staff from the school, students and their families, and members of the Saipan Central Seventh-day Adventist Church, almost two weeks to clear the debris from the storm until it could reopen, and then another six weeks to return to full operation. The clean-up and journey to normalcy continues to be a long and expensive process.
Fast forward to the present. Yutu is in the record books, but its ghost remains present on the island. We are still haunted by and recovering from its crippling effects. Like the disciples in the boat that night with Jesus during a life-threatening storm, we too have been through a storm. And to be honest ,like the disciples in that boat on the lake of Galilee, we too have cried out, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Matthew 8:25 (NLT)
Two people perished because of Yutu, but many more have been drowning in doubt, fear discouragement, financial loss, and the loss of their homes or their businesses. They have been tempted to believe that Jesus doesn’t care, and that He is going to just let them drown. But as we look to Matthew 8:26-27 we see hope because, “Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him!'”
We on Saipan have seen that Jesus indeed commands the wind and the waves, and that they obey Him. Because even though the wind and the waves of Yutu beat against Saipan, Jesus was with us, and we are still here, alive and well. True, full recovery is a long way off, but we have seen how Jesus has sent us help in the form of friends, family and even government institutions. We have seen how Jesus has been faithful in restoring calm here in Saipan. We have seen how Jesus has used His church, His school, and our families to bring about peace even in the midst of the storm. So, no matter what storms we face in the future, no matter how the wind roars or how the waves crash over us, we will trust Jesus. Because even the winds and the waves obey Him, and He will save us.
Mark Bugbee serves as the principal of Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan on October 25, 2018.