Saipan solidarity survives Soudelor


A colleague and his spouse were caught in Japan while Soudelor unleashed its surprising fury on Saipan; a NMC teacher with her 80-ish husband got stuck in Guam for 48 hours for the same reason. A critical CUC administrator was held back in Hagatña so he raced back on a 10-hour boat ride to beleaguered CUC.

I recently traveled to northeast China in what turned out to be the peak season for traveling tourists, and though the stop to Pusan on my way to Beijing was a long eight hours, it did not compare with the return that saw a five-hour delay in Shenyang, a six-hour layover in Beijing, 18 hours in Shanghai, and eight hours in Guam, before hitting the Saipan tarmac. I commiserated with those who were stranded due to the closed airport when Soudelor came calling.

It was not the fact that they were victims of Mother Nature’s sudden ferocious turn of events that caught our fancy. It was the fact that there was almost a stoic acceptance of what transpired and a determination to move on. It was quiet on the blame whining front.

Severely affected CUC, with all its downed electrical poles that snapped with the wind or twisted like rolls on a bun turned contortionists (I took a picture of one of CUC’s stations with mangled aluminum poles along Chalan Msgr. Guerrero), is driving planners not just to draft the short-term goal of getting the distributing lines back to condition but to consider constructing long-term underground trenches to keep electrical transmission lines buried and protected from the annual typhoons.

Knowing our colleague’s compassion for the sector he serves, he will double his efforts to ensure that the differently-abled community receives all the assistance they deserve, often conveniently ignored or forgotten at large. Ditto for the NMC teacher over at the Nursing department.

Being a resident in a complex with enough infrastructure to generate its own power and pump its own water when CUC fails to deliver, I tend to act like a Hiroshima Hibakusha (disaster survivor) more than a Soudelor victim. Our generator ran into supply contradiction. Shell/Mobil parlayed their supplies to the best advantage even as the government forbade increases on the prices of food and related commodities affected by the consequences of short supply and high demand for gas.

Happily, four days after the storm, Mobil joined Shell to pump its liquid fuel to lined vehicles and canisters. Also, the supply of drinking water caught up before merchants were tempted to gouge our pockets to profit on the valuable bottled commodity. Again, that is an area where CUC planners can get into their drawing boards; how we can systemically produce and distribute potable fresh water to a burgeoning population. Having lived in many Pacific isles where the rainwater catchment was no longer sufficient, this is an issue urban planning cannot ignore. Our urban planner politician at UH will not miss this contradiction.

There was little murmuring on the side as newly typhoon-displaced employees of the company that owns our residence inundated the complex, getting the place its share of the temporary taking-the-couch visitors, or just those who share-the-shower kind. It is the parking that is being sorted out! Then the generator broke down.

Surprised by the direct hit of Soudelor, anticipated but ignored after several typhoons’ expected fury failed to materialize, our complex did not even bother to board its windows for Soudelor, causing severe damage as the flying debris smashed into people’s dwellings. One mother recounted how the fallen branch of a neighbor’s mango tree shattered her windowpane, and the thick curtains protected her three cowering tots from injury.

The solidarity of a population still sawing its fallen trees was evident as folks brought their defrosting food out (without power, the refrigerator and freezers had too much food that had to be consumed quickly), built modestly fueled (though a bit moist) bonfires for the cooking and frolicked in the lagoon even with the overcast skies as another depression loomed to rain on the terrain. Just how much solidarity we can carry was bottomless!

Our complex did its share to conserve its envied position among the island’s lit dwellings. The generator schedule staggered hours and in the austerity of the time, the symbolic power of solidarity with the suffering mass that the complex showed was not missed.

The ladies at our grocery store smelled each other, ensuring that the crow’s bath they took was sufficient and the deodorant they applied was not overwhelming for the equally fragrant consuming public.

The blown leaves that dotted many structures dried up, naturally swept by the wind. We offered to help Uncle Lino pick up fallen branches in his yard by the lagoon. He nonchalantly commented that we will do that when the branches sufficiently dried up; meanwhile, he turned on the butane grill to roast instead.

Meanwhile, Soudelor wrought havoc in Taiwan (eight known dead) and the chest of chicken-shaped China in Fujian province. The Saipan pathway is finally showing cement. We overcame.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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