Typhoon Megi

I don’t even remember what day it started raining. I do know that it came down steadily, impossibly. Every time I looked outside, it was still pounding the same rhythm. The news reports came in, Typhoon Megi was devastating the Philippines, but would probably miss us and head on to China. We’d just get more rain. And more rain. And more rain. I kept looking for a break in the downpour, but it never came. Usually I leave Yilan for the (sometimes) dryer streets of Taipei on Wednesday nights, but not this week. This week I was scheduled to teach in Hualian on Friday. That meant working from home on Thursday.

I ran out for groceries in the morning, bypassing the underpass near my back entrance, as it was starting to fill with water. My friends had offered to pick me up in their car at 12:30, still pouring. I noticed a car stuck in the underpass, lights flashing. Too much water. We heard rumors of a typhoon holiday and school cancellations, but weren’t sure. At three when they were driving me home, we passed by my old apartment, and noticed water pooling in the intersection. Passed by the empty school, and headed down main street (zhong shan road), we started to realize that the weather was more serious than we’d imagined. Shop owners were sweeping water out of their stores. Water was splashing up to our windows. Scooters were stalling in intersections as their engines filled with water. It took at least twice as long to get home.

Looking out my back window, I noticed the small creek behind my house had tripled in size. The rice fields further back were turning into a large lake, their divisions indistinguishable. The unlucky car was being towed from the underpass, where the water was more than halfway up in just two hours. I turned on the news. There was the road next to the school I had taught at the day before, cordoned off because it was too flooded to drive on. The reports kept coming in, landslides on the highway, kids stranded in a kindergarten, trains stopped, water one story high in Su-Ao. I couldn’t believe it, Yilan is the second rainiest city inTaiwan. On the East cost, we tend to weather typhoons pretty well too. But something had reached the breaking point.

I went to bed wondering if the trains would be running again the next day. They started about 7:30am; an hour later, I was on my way to Hualian. We slowed to a crawl through Su-Ao, where the tracks still had water on them, and the area next to them was submerged. I was a little shocked to find that Hualian was dry!

I called Christine and Ivan and found out that their kitchen had been flooded, but their electronics and books on the first floor were spared. I heard that they were organizing some relief efforts among the churches. Saturday night, I returned to Yilan, and things had dried out significantly in the downtown areas.

At church on Sunday, an elder announced that in lieu of the scheduled “Outreach and ministries planning meeting”, he wanted to go and help.

Unsure of how much of a help I’d be, I decided to go along anyway. We passed trucks filled with muddy and destroyed furniture and other debris headed to a growing dump site. We got into different cars and drove to a church near the hardest-hit area. They were passing out gloves and bottled water to volunteers, as well as fitting people with rubber boots. Ivan told us that we’d have to park downtown and walk in, and that we were needed to help sweep muddy water out of houses, wash or remove furniture, and to encourage the people who’d already spent the last 2-3 days cleaning out their homes.

It’s hard to describe the scene that met us when we got to Nan-Fang-Ao. The streets were filled with people in different garb – the military in fatigues, the TzuChi Buddhist foundation in navy blue regiments, us in our yellow vests with “Jesus loves you” emblazoned across the back, and all manner of others come out to help. It was truly amazing. We headed down increasingly smaller alleys, not really sure where to start or how to help. I offered a “xing ku le 幸苦了” (maybe translated as “I see your pain”) to people who looked up from their work. We saw a lady trying to clear a path through the mud in front of her house and grabbed brooms to help. On the street behind us, the mud was piled up about a foot and a half, with soldiers shoveling it into trucks to haul it away.

Teresa got a call from a former classmate of hers who runs a small private school in downtown Su-Ao, and we headed over there to help. They were in the heart of it, and every store on the block was shoveling, washing, and discarding ruined goods. I saw a gutted 7-11 on the corner, along with pharmacies, tea shops and a restaurant. The school owner told us that they’d lost four computers and a DVD player. The muddied and ruined photocopier was the only thing left in the room, waiting for the next garbage truck to pass by. They’d been cleaning non-stop and were almost finished. They didn’t have anything for us to help with, but were eager to share their stories. We prayed with them. We only had about a half an hour left before we were supposed to report back to the volunteer center. We found a restaurant and helped them wash shelves, bowls, stools and tables. There was mud caked under every level of the shelving. I finally started to feel like I was helping.

Pastor Wang said that we were there also just to sympathize with them, to feel for them, to

better understand their loss. I agree. Taiwan has its share of natural disasters, including Typhoon Morakot (8/8/2009), but this time it really felt real to me, it happened right in my backyard. The images I saw weren’t just on the news. And the people I met lost a lot, some everything. They were grateful for the blessings poured out on them, no matter the source, and were overwhelmed by the aid coming from their fellow countrymen. I’m not sure how much more I’m able to do, except to ask you all to pray for my dear Yilan-ren as well. 宜蘭加油!