After the Aftermath
“Do you think they know a typhoon is coming?” I wondered aloud. A group of Chinese tourists were heading out to the beach in their swimsuits carrying fins and snorkels. Glen and I were soaked from the pelting rain—hauling cases of communications gear through the open air lobby of a hotel in Saipan. This was the spot where we Red Cross volunteers from the states were gathered to weather the coming storm. The place that agreed to take us in was packed with tourists from China who arrived in Saipan ready to do the full tilt vacation experience. From the looks of things these were very hardy tourists. There is not an umbrella made that could withstand the winds that were gathering strength yet a dozen or so tourists were heading to the beach to… do what? The wind had whipped up the waves to such a frenzy that no fish worthy of the name would be at snorkeling depth. Nemo was surely off visiting cousins deep down in the ocean. Sand was flying, the lounge chairs had already been stacked and chained down, and the bits of thatched roof on beach ramadas were airborne.
“If they start doing Tai Chi I may join them,” I told Glen. Things had been hectic and I could do with a little calm right now. The past few days Glen and I had our heads in our work; installing communications for the Red Cross disaster response in Saipan after Super Typhoon Soudelor devastated the island. We heard bits and pieces from islanders and colleagues about the remote possibility of a new typhoon heading our way. But we have been in many disasters during our ten years as Red Cross volunteers and could not imagine the odds of two typhoons hitting the same island so close to one another. That would be some serious bad luck.
So it was with amazement that we needed to stop disaster response for Super Typhoon Soudelor, gather our emergency satellite communications gear and prepare for another one. This new tropical storm was named Goni and slated to veer a bit and not pack anywhere near the punch of Typhoon Soudelor. But the houses and buildings that were already missing a roof or open to the weather were not going to provide much protection for the islanders. Many were heading to shelters in disbelief.
By definition, Red Cross disaster workers are a resilient bunch. And if you have to be in a big storm, they are about as capable a group as you could wish for. These people are so accustomed to helping out and taking charge in disasters that they were in the lobby doing what comes naturally in the Red Cross; one volunteer trying to make himself understood to Chinese tourists practicing their English that it might be a good idea to fill their bathtub with water in case the water supply is disrupted. Try to communicate that to a non-English speaker. Meanwhile a Red Cross Health volunteer is advising a young couple to take shelter in the bathroom if the windows break. The young couple seemed to understand and translate for the rest.
Meanwhile, the Asian tourists are making the most of the situation taking pictures of each other with their arms around the Red Cross volunteers while pointing to the American Red Cross logo on our shirts. It was about as close to celebrity status as a disaster volunteer will ever come. Come to think of it, these Chinese tourists had it right. Vacation experiences don’t come more authentic than this.
NOTE: Tropical storm Goni did not develop into a typhoon and winds stayed around 60 MPH. Not surprisingly the tourists in the hotel did not skip a beat and were out body surfing the next day in the high waves created by the storm. The Red Cross workers went back to Round Two of disaster relief.