This is a guest article by Bruce Bateman

Early Thursday morning (Oct 25) the typhoon eye hit Saipan and our neighboring island of Tinian. Now it’s Sunday morning about 5 AM and I’ve been up since 3:30. When your only light is a battery powered flashlight you sleep early after discussing tomorrow’s recovery strategy sitting outside under the bright starry sky. The lights are on… only if you have a generator. You have the luxury of sleeping inside under a roof only if your house is still standing. My reinforced concrete house in Tanapag village is one of those lucky ones.

Saipan Island is 14 miles long and sits 1500 miles east of Manila and 1500 miles south of Tokyo. Break out your map of the Pacific and you’ll notice we’re in the middle of nowhere. At the same time we are within short 3 hours flying time of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Another hour or so gets you to China eastern Russia and northern Australia.

Late Thursday afternoon, once Super Typhoon Yutu winds slacked enough to get outside I drove 10 miles south to a small apartment I keep in San Antonio village. It took over an hour to wind around downed trees, phone poles and general debris often through the grass at the side of the road or even through some lawns to get there. Even that was only possible because the first ones through tossed roofing tin and assorted large windborne flying objects aside to clear a single lane path. Only part of the apartment was there when I arrived. No roof, no door, no windows ½ the concrete block outer wall in rubble, my stuff soaked or blown into infinity or maybe the Saipan Lagoon. The southern part of the island had the ferocious eye wall slam through it at 200+mph (some say 220+) while upper Saipan had to make do with the mild mannered 180 to 190mph gusts of the inner band.

Entire villages are broken and scattered. Thousands are homeless, a thousand in shelters (full), many bunking in the floor at friends or relatives who have a roof, many more sleeping under the stars and the lingering rain showers.
Friday I drove back for another mini pick-up load of less soaked stuff and the drive was down to 45 minutes as some of the poles and debris had been cleared. My southern village neighbors seemed cheerful considering their cars, like mine parked there, had no windows and their primary homes lay in ruins.

The water one has for drinking or for sanitary purposes is that water you put aside before the storm. The islands rely on pumping fresh water up from a “lens” of fresh water that floats above the salt water in the aquifer under the island. We get lots of rain so it is plenty sufficient in normal times, but it only bubbles up in a few places on its own. The rest hast to be pumped and with no electricity being generated, there is no water. The hospital, the private water purification company and a few other spots have a dedicated well/generator combination. The line in front of the water company is half a mile long. Great way to spend a day.

Speaking of lines let’s talk about gas or petrol as my friend Simon of BNN calls it. Did I mention the government’s Emergency Management Office in its ultimate wisdom reached out to the Shell/Mobile gasoline duopoly here and asked how much gas they had? The reply was 21 days’ worth and the tanker ship that brings gas from Singapore was due in next Wednesday. So in typical bureaucratic fashion they have forced the gas stations to ration fuel and diesel causing lines hundreds of cars long in front of and down the road from every station on the island. The EMO has created an artificial shortage when there is plenty of gas to go around. Ahhhh government. They are very good at breaking your legs, forcing you to buy your crutches only from them and then proudly telling you how lucky you are to have them ‘help you out’.

The squirrels that spin the cage that powers the generator that runs this laptop are getting tired as are my fingertips so I’ll sign off for now. The is plenty more to tell and I’ll be working with Simon to bring you more news about the recovery efforts here and more about this Island nation with a unique tie to the USA a bit later. That tie is very interesting and stems from the War of the Pacific (WWII to you in the States). Lots of intrigue.

Bruce A. Bateman lives in Tanapag village on the island of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) with a wife and a teenager that knows everything and more boonie dogs than should be allowed. He writes when the moon is full and the mood strikes.

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