Editor’s Note: Saipan Tribune sent Kimberly Bautista to Rota on a task to scope the damage left by Typhoon Mangkhut, talk with disaster relief representatives, and write about it.
SONGSONG, Rota—I’ve never slept in a typhoon shelter before. My recent experience on Rota was eye-opening. I was safe, yes, but it was also hot, dark, and I was hungry. Thank heavens for the kindness of strangers, who found me a spot where I could lie down and pass the night.
The best news I got was when my editor told me I would be returning to Saipan much earlier that I had expected. At least I had that luxury of catching a flight and getting back to Saipan for a warm shower and a full meal. Not so much for many others, who had to spend a few more nights at the shelter, days after Typhoon Mangkhut swept through Rota.
Mildred Sikebert, one of two shelter volunteers at the Office on Aging, said there were over six displaced families at the shelter, which thankfully had electricity from a generator set.
Although the company had booked a room for me at the Valentino Hotel, I chose to stay at the shelter and the experience was a good occasion for several personal realizations, including taking a lot of things for granted, like my bed and my sheets. Being forced to sleep on the floor and making do with what you have are valuable lessons.
For 7-year-old Monica Salazar, who was at the shelter with her mom, Girlie, it was an adventure. According to Girlie, she and her daughter were staying at the shelter because Typhoon Mangkhut left their home without a roof, yet the bubbly Monica still managed to play with the friends she had made at the shelter, as kids are wont to do.
Her mom, Girlie, also took pains to help me out, finding a spot where I could lie down. I will never forget how kind she was and how much she wanted to help me out despite needing help herself.
As I spent time with the Salazars, I came to the realization that the passing of Typhoon Mangkhut was merely the beginning of the battle to recovery.
Monica herself vividly remembers the strong wind and the rain as Typhoon Mangkhut pummeled Rota last Sept. 10 and 11.
“I felt scared…At first I was watching movies in my laptop and when it was almost nighttime, the power just went out and my mommy and I just stayed in the room…and then our house broke down…the roof fell down because of the wind,” she said.
Another shelteree, Nida Gammad, whose home was completely wiped out by Mangkhut, is still uncertain about what will happen to her and her grandchildren when they are asked to leave the shelter.
“Our home is really damaged so I don’t know when we will be able to go home,” she added.
There were many others who suffered the same fate as Gammad and Salazar but they remained optimistic. In fact, upon waking up early the next day, despite the long restless night, I couldn’t help but admire the generosity that people showed toward their fellow shelterees. Those who were up early offered coffee and made sure not to bother those who were still asleep.
After a couple of hours chatting with the new friends I’ve made and watching the children play, I made my way back to the Valentino Hotel, where I was able to eat finally.
And uppermost on my mind? A nice long shower and a hot meal.
I must point out that this is not meant to mock or belittle the experience of those forced to take shelter after a storm. Rather, I wanted to put a face and a name to stories about typhoon shelterees and this was my chance to do that. In the midst of suffering and hardship, people’s kindness, compassion, and resilience still bled through, and I am privileged to have witnessed that.