‘Fort’ protects Gross family from Yutu


The family of Public School System Athletic Program director Nick Gross survived the wrath of Super Typhoon Yutu thanks to a “fort.”

It’s not the kind of fort that soldiers use for protection or the one we see in movies.

“It was our mattress,” Gross said, adding that they brought the mattress with them when they retreated inside a container van they made into an extension to their house during the height of Yutu.

“When the kids started asking what’s happening and why we are hiding under the mattress, I told them that we are camping out and we have this cool fort as our temporary housing,” he added.

Nick’s wife, Rhonda, said the words camping and fort somehow consoled their young children as they listened in fear as their roof and surrounding structures were decimated. Once the roof was gone, the sliding glass door was next. There was nothing left to do but listen to the eerie sound of the gusting winds and the deafening blast of a horn honking from one of the vehicles that was hit by debris.

Though shielded by the mattress Nick had tied down over them, the Gross family along with two of Rhonda’s sisters, nephew, two nieces, and mother-in-law were not in the clear yet. As the storm raged on, so did the torrent of rain. With the roof gone, filthy rainwater inundated the family as they huddled together and tried to comfort the seven kids packed under the mattresses like sardines in a can. The sustained winds of the Category 5 storm eventually ripped the container door open leaving them with no options, but to hunker down under their soaked mattress and pray that a sheet of tin or any other object is not hurled down the length of the container.

“The suspended roof is gone and I don’t have the courage to attempt going out there to secure the swinging door—the wind will throw me like a rag doll. The container was shaking and we were afraid it could roll even though it was welded into our foundation,” Nick said.

For more protection, they used the scattered clothes and extension cords to make ropes and used them to tie down the mattresses with every adult getting to hand-hold. They hung on to the ropes for dear life for nearly seven hours with rain pouring over their head and things flying out of their severely damaged house at Katmelo Country Cliff (As Gonno, near Coral Ocean Point).

Spam and Easter Egg Hunt
When the ordeal was finally over, Nick and Rhonda rushed to find dry clothes from the closet that fortunately was not knocked down by the wind.

“Everybody was able to change clothes after soaking in rainwater for hours. I found rice that was still good and I opened Spam. We sat there and ate while staring at the destruction brought by Yutu not knowing what will happen next and waiting for the wind to settle,” Nick said.

While everyone surveyed the damage caused by Yutu and began looking for things that could still be saved, their children kept themselves busy, picking up Easter Eggs.

“We had a soko (storage shed) that was full of stuff for holidays. It was decimated during the storm and things were everywhere. The kids ended up looking for Easter Eggs, hunting for about two hours, as the adults attempted to clean up. The Easter Egg hunt kind of helped them forget what happened earlier,” said Rhonda

‘It does not take blood to be family’
Help poured (and still pouring) in for the Gross family after the typhoon.

“People called, sent messages, offered their homes, brought supplies. They also offered to take care of the children for playdates while we salvage what once was a home and find some reprieve. We are so blessed to come out of this physically unharmed, and extremely overwhelmed with the love we are getting from family and friends (family and friends of family and friends) on island and abroad,” Rhonda said.

Nick’s sister, Ashley, who is based in Montana, has started a fundraising drive for the family via GoFund Me and people across the U.S. have pitched in to help the family recover. Jim Rayphand has opened up his home in San Vicente to the Gross family. With nowhere to go and no immediate plans, the family cannot thank Rayphand and his mother, Jeanne Rayphand, enough for their assistance. The place is a little busier than usual as family, friends, and co-workers are also stopping by to offer their sympathy and support.

“On Halloween, we decided that we had to get back to our place to remove everything, salvage what we could, and begin the process of inventorying our damages. We’ve lost everything, but we’re so appreciative of all the help and support,” Rhonda said.

“They are the people we meet every day at work, in school, in the community. They are helping us out like they are part of our family. It does not take blood to be a family. Locally, the support and assistance have been unbelievable and to all the folks out there around the world that have reached out to support us, we just can’t thank them enough. We’re overwhelmed with gratitude for everything everyone is doing to assist us.” Nick said.

“We will start over and we really appreciate all the people helping us get back on our feet. Infinite thanks beyond words,” Rhonda added.

Livestock for sale
Nick’s family stays busy farming as well, as they raise pigs, chickens, ducks, pigeons, and goats. All 16 pigs are accounted for, while the goats returned the first two days after the typhoon but have not been seen since. They lost some chickens and ducks, too and those left are now roaming around the farm.

“The price of his livestock may have just increased as they can now be labeled free range,” Nick joked.

With their children to take care of and a house to rebuild, Nick said it will be very difficult to tend to all the farm animals.

“If there are people interested in buying livestock, they could check me out,” Nick said.

The family also appealed to people not to steal from someone’s property.

“The entire community is affected by Yutu so let’s not add to anyone’s suffering by stealing from them. Let’s help each other and we will all get through this,” Rhonda said.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.

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