Yeah, before the typhoon come, they gave us a warning and most of the young boys here, they don’t know about typhoon. They thought it just a small storm that was approaching. Around midnight, we found out that this is super typhoon. It was scary. You see all the tin roof flying around and the boats and everything. This is the only time in my whole life that I’ve seen a super typhoon here.
Were you here for Ophelia?
Yeah, I was around 6 to 7 years old when Ophelia came. Most of the typhoons that come this way grows. Ulithi and Guam, they say that we’re in the path of typhoons. Most of the typhoons coming west, coming through here, especially between here and Guam.
We built this men’s house for typhoon shelter. We secured the doors, because we have no more doors. The wood we’re using is not strong enough to hold, to handle max winds. It blows everything off. We end up in the men’s house, nowhere to go. No place to run, so … we hide inside (laughs).
Was the water coming in?
The rain, but not the salt water. Only the rain and sand.
Sand, so you’re getting hit with sand?
Oh yeah. A 200-knot wind is very strong, and that sand hits you, it’s like a piece of wood, really.
Were you afraid that not everyone was going to make it?
Yeah. We’re lucky everyone make it. That’s very scary. We thought nobody would be surviving, with the speed of the knots of the winds.
How many people were in here?
About … 5 to 6 boys. Only …
No, not children. All age 20, 21. They’re students. I’m the eldest among them. I was trying to escape and the wind blew me out. I flew out in the road, and they came and picked me up, bring me back in. That’s how strong the wind is.
They picked you up off the ground?
Yeah. I was just laying on the ground like that, and … There’s no control, too. It was like a helicopter or plane that had lost control, I flew over (laughs).
That’s pretty scary. Were you very scared?
No, I was a little bit drunk. I drink some alcohol in the evening. I do enjoy, you know, some of the time. Toward the end, there’s no more enjoyment, very scary. That’s when I was praying to the cross inside (laughs).
What was it like during the storm, what could you hear?
Oh, it … It’s all kind of … making sounds. Sounds, tin roofs, and branches in the trees, and every … Even that far, you could not hear somebody talking. Very strong winds.
How long did it last?
About … an hour or almost two hours or something. I’m not sure, because I don’t have watch but I know it’s not … take long. If it takes long, it’s going to be more worse.
What did you do after the rain died down? It was late at night?
Yeah, it was late at night. We all run away from here. We search for shelter, too.
As soon as you could leave.
Yeah, so the next day we looked around, and the island was pretty much down.
What did it feel like to walk around and see what it looked like when the sun came out?
Well, especially my coconut, my tuba [palm wine] trees, I feel bad because no more the next day and …
No more tuba?
No more tuba, and I’m used to that so … it takes me two months, no alcohol. Still I’m nervous, I get shaky with no alcohol in the system (laughs).
How did you know the storm ended?
The wind was calming down, the rain … Before, it’s hitting us, we could tell that it’s increasing. It’s increasing. And then it’s passing, it’s kind of decreasing. That’s how we could tell.
What was it like to come outside after it was over?
No no, it just … You could not go outside. You could feel it inside. You can feel the pressure, at least in the building like this. You can feel the pressure of the storm.
What did it feel like?
That’s the pressure that you have careful, ’cause even concrete, it can break. If the wind hit from this side, you make opening on the opposite side so you release the pressure inside.
The wind pressure?
Yeah. We don’t study these storms, but they’ve been passing from generations. This is how the old people tell us about storms when they’re approaching. The important is the pressure, because even concrete house, the pressure can break. So you have to be careful with the pressure.
When you came outside the next day, you saw what the island looked like …
It’s completely … no trees. We have trees, but only branches. No coconuts, no leaves.
No green, concrete. The leaves, they just come out after three months.
What did you think about rebuilding, did you feel hopeful?
I’m not so … the last storm, typhoon, FEMA, when we were under FEMA, one day after the typhoon we have assessment from United States FEMA. Everything was processed very fast. Now we’re under another … how do you call that, IOM, that’s the new replacement of FEMA. It takes … it’s slow. It’s slow, that’s what, everything is very slow. That’s what I’m worried about. I’m one of the homeless here, no house at all. My house was blown off. If we don’t have replacement … We will be looking at the local materials, but we don’t have wood to chop down.
Where are you staying now?
I stay in the men’s house, but I have a temporary house, across the street.
What do you think the impact of the typhoon on the reef was?
There’s total damage on the reef. Total damage. Especially, I’m a local fishermen here. Every, almost every day I go out to the reef. And I’ve seen a lot of damage to the coral. Especially there is a stockpile of coral rocks on the side of the island. It’s all down here. The typhoon washed them all down. The cabbage coral that you’re studying here [referring to work being done by One People One Reef], there’s no more now. A whole bunch of rock washed them off. So we don’t know if they’re going to slow down or start growing again. Maybe from the other islands or somewhere, but … But here, I’m sure we have damaged coral, much.
Was there fish after the typhoon?
Yeah, we still had fish. What we learn from you guys is, no healthy coral, no fish. That’s one of the real worries about … we might, even with our own conservation, but no coral? I’m sure no fish will … (laughs)
Yeah, they need the coral as their home. Was it white out there, out there? Was everything white?
Yeah. The seaweed was washed off.
The algae was gone?
Yeah. Now they still here, you can tell. You look out, every … The reef is white. It’s all washed off.
What kind of food are you eating now, are you eating mostly the food from the USA aid, or are you still eating the fish?
We eat fish. We still have some local food like potatoes that they were buried in the ground, the taro … those we still have. Banana, everything that grows on the top soil, the fruits that the lives on top of the soil, no more. We have to wait for 6 months, 3-6 months.
So it took about a week, we heard, for relief to come out, PMA … after the typhoon?
Yeah. But PMA is a small plane. It cannot take, you know, supply for the whole atoll, for … And our supply ship is maybe, always have a problem. So I don’t know, maybe once a month or twice a month. It’s not enough space for cargo for the whole atoll. So they bring a lot of the time. We conserve to use it, so.
Was there enough food after the typhoon, until you got help?
I think so, I don’t think we have a big problem with the food. ‘Cause we have copra. We eat copra with the fish, and … and it’s healthy food, copra is.
Do you think the typhoon has made the community stronger? Has it brought people together?
Every day they ring the bell [to call a meeting], and now the chiefs and the elders and the leaders take their power to keep the community together and do their best on the work. Every morning they ring bell, you have to come to the men’s house. That’s where they’re going to assign daily work, the work we do every day. Weekends, they let us go. Community get together and they go fish. Weekdays, we have to work. Every day that you hear the bell ring, you must go there.
We just heard it a few minutes ago. Is everyone meeting?
Yeah. Almost every day, every morning, they ring the bell. Every man has to come to the men’s house and get the order from the chiefs.
What does the chief say usually?
We have ten clans here, and the eldest, I’m one of the eldest, and the leaders. We get together and discuss these activities that we do on the islands. The chief will be the one to report the orders of the island. Every morning, the chief will talk to people, what they’re going to do.
Is it hard to be a leader at this time? Is this a tough time to be a leader?
Yeah. When I was young, I was one of the worst and ugly and naughty boy (laughs), and … ‘Cause I don’t know how, that one of these days, I’ll be the leader and I’ll get all the power and the leader and the blame. Now I know how the hard work is, and I’ll try my best.
Do you have hope for the islands, if there’s another typhoon? Do you feel you know what to do and you could get ready?
Yeah. Before, we do that, we … but right now, it’s … everything is changing. We have internet and email and they have all this typhoon information, so … we just, it’s much easier to track all that, keeping tracking on the internet. Listen to that chief. Where the typhoon is, we don’t know it’s true information or wrong information … Yeah. It’s changing from before. It’s not like before, when the chief would give the orders.