On Thursday, October 25, 2018, Super Typhoon Yutu slammed into the Northern Mariana Islands—the strongest storm on record ever to hit that Pacific territory. More than 50,000 people living there faced the heartbreaking impact of this storm. Residents of the island of Tinian and the southern villages of Saipan experienced sustained winds of 170 mph, with gusts of over 200 mph.
The eye of the storm passed directly over Tinian, and all 1,100 homes on the island were destroyed or greatly damaged by the extreme wind speeds. In addition to displacing tens of thousands of people, Yutu severely impacted the infrastructure of the islands, disrupting the availability of food and clean water, limiting safe shelter options, and creating logistical challenges for getting supplies and staff to the islands.
With the help of a longtime partner, the American Red Cross, LDS Charities was able to respond to this emergency. A clear part of our mission is to relieve suffering following natural disasters, civil unrest, or famine around the world. When local resources are strained or nonexistent, we provide short-term, life-sustaining resources such as food, water, shelter, and clothing, as well as medical, hygiene, and school supplies.
Despite the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yutu, this disaster didn’t receive as much media attention as we felt it warranted. We knew that our involvement could fill a need that was underrepresented.
Saipan and the other Northern Mariana Islands are geographically isolated, so we needed help to provide resources to those in need. Our partnership with the American Red Cross provided us the means to respond to this emergency.
“We are so grateful to be able to partner with the American Red Cross office in Saipan to help those in need following this disaster,” said Elder William Davis, Area Seventy over Saipan. “We tried to respond to Typhoon Yutu as soon as we could and are grateful to be able to help those who were affected by this devastating storm.”
John Hirsh, a resident of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Red Cross executive director for the area, experienced the effects of Yutu firsthand. John had this to say about his family’s experience:
“My family sheltered in place. We live in the middle of the island, outside of where the catastrophic winds hit; however, we still had winds in excess of 140 mph. I boarded up my house with plywood as usual. At around 1:00 a.m., the winds got stronger and stronger.
"My wife, daughter, and I retreated to a safe room in our house with no windows. As the winds intensified, the change in air pressure was so severe that our ears were ringing in pain. Suddenly we heard a huge crash inside the house. I carefully cracked the door to see that the storm boards over my sliding doors had ripped off the house and the wind had blown in our doorframes.
"With my flashlight I could see and feel 100-mph winds slashing through my living room. I retreated back into the safety of our bathroom, where we spent the next three hours listening to the sound of glass breaking and many of our family keepsakes crashing to the floor. At daybreak we ventured into our main living space to find a huge mess.
"All our furniture—dining table, chairs, sofa, and bookshelf were completely soaked with water. Many of our family photos and mementos were smashed on the ground. We spent hours mopping up and trying to figure out how to move forward. In addition, there were a dozen trees blocking my driveway, so after the all clear, I needed to hike out to the main road to get help and catch a ride to work.
"I’ve been through many storms while living in Saipan, but Yutu was particularly scary for me and my family.”
The American Red Cross is the leading nonprofit response agency in the Northern Mariana Islands. With the help of LDS Charities and their other supporters, they were able to put together a large response structure to aid the affected areas.
“The Red Cross is proud to count LDS Charities as a partner as we work together to provide thousands of people throughout the Northern Mariana Islands with much-needed support,” said Don Herring, chief development officer at the American Red Cross.
In the immediate wake of the storm, the American Red Cross provided essential relief supplies such as tarps, drinking water, lanterns, mosquito netting, and meals. Additionally, they provided financial support to families whose homes either were destroyed or had major damage. This disaster relief operation proved challenging with the air and seaports closed, so the American Red Cross needed to work with partners like LDS Charities to get essential personnel and supplies into the region. Support from FEMA and the DOD was also key to meeting the logistical needs of the response effort.
The road to recovery will be long, but Saipan and the other affected areas will have the opportunity to rebuild and strengthen their infrastructure. They are partnering with federal and local government, as well as nonprofits, to develop a road map to build a stronger, more resilient community. LDS Charities is proud to have supported this community and will stand ready with the American Red Cross to continue to provide support to those who need it most.