IMPACT
09/23/2015 01:03 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2015

Portraits Of Typhoon-Ravaged Saipan Show Resiliency Amidst Ruin

"I don't think that people elsewhere understand the magnitude of the suffering here."

Updated September 23, 2015 at 11:45 a.m. HST.  

It's been nearly two months since Typhoon Soudelor made a direct hit on Saipan, the most populated island among the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth located in Micronesia.

But, despite local and federal recovery efforts, many there are still without life's basic necessities, such as reliable access to water or electricity, or even a safe shelter to call home

Photographer Dan Lin originally traveled to the island on assignment from the Associated Press and the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, but after spending more than a week in Saipan embedded with many of the island's now-homeless residents, Lin left with more than just photographs of the typhoon's aftermath.

As Lin watched the community pull together despite their limited resources and the ruins that surrounded them, he made it his personal mission to share their post-storm experiences with the world.

"The story of Saipan's recovery, though seemingly tragic, is actually one of resiliency, endurance and humanity at its best," Lin told HuffPost.

Like so many other residents of Saipan, Joe Rios lost his home after Typhoon Soudelor wrecked through the island.
Dan Lin
Like so many other residents of Saipan, Joe Rios lost his home after Typhoon Soudelor wrecked through the island.

With help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, AmeriCorps and volunteer groups such as the American Red Cross, "conditions are slowly improving," U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan told HuffPost.

"But essentially the survivors of the storm, local residents, have to pick themselves up and at the same time help each other," he added. "That is exhausting. Yet people in our community are toughing it out and doing what needs to be done."

Take Jenny Hegland, for instance. 

Hegland, a resident of Saipan, started United 4 Saipan, a grassroots volunteer group, days after the typhoon by handing out bottles of water to isolated villages on the island with her sister.

Weeks later, and with help from more than 300 dedicated volunteers and donors, United 4 Saipan distributed 40,000 gallons of water and 3,000 food and care packages directly to remote villages, according to Hegland. 

"I don’t think that people elsewhere understand the magnitude of the suffering here," Hegland told HuffPost.

Which is why Lin has made it his personal mission to share Saipan's story.

He says the most difficult part of photographing the devastation "was trying to stay focused on taking pictures when people are asking for help with basic human needs."

On occasion, he sang with the children in the shelters and cried with adults as they tried to restore their lives.

"There were times when I felt that my role was so trivial in relation to what was needed," Lin told The Huffington Post.

"But then I remembered that there were so many other people doing their part to support recovery efforts -- and that my role was to help tell their story." 

 

Below, meet the everyday heroes in Saipan who are getting by amidst the chaos with strength and grace.  

  • Lin noticed this man whistling and smiling to himself as he walked around what was left of his home. When Lin asked him why h
    Dan Lin
    Lin noticed this man whistling and smiling to himself as he walked around what was left of his home. When Lin asked him why he was so happy, the man replied: "God spared the things that matter most to me. I have many reasons to smile!" 
  • Lin lived in temporary shelters with the island's&nbsp;displaced residents while he was on Saipan.<br><br>He found himself "c
    Dan Lin
    Lin lived in temporary shelters with the island's displaced residents while he was on Saipan.

    He found himself "constantly humbled by people who have lost so much, yet find reasons to smile,” he told HuffPost. “On this day, I was reminded that the joy of love and the gift of music are worth more than any materials, and no typhoon can ever take that away.”
  • "Our personnel waited weeks before tending to the losses suffered by their families, while they worked on our recovery effort
    Commonwealth Utilities Corporation
    "Our personnel waited weeks before tending to the losses suffered by their families, while they worked on our recovery efforts," Brad Ruszala, public informations officer for the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, told HuffPost.

    "Some lost all of their belongings ... their entire homes, yet they continued to show up for their 18-hour shifts every day."

    The island's Commonwealth Utilities Corporation has worked tirelessly to restore power to some parts of the island, but according to a press release, most of the island won't be back online until the end of October.

    "We've come a long way since Soudelor knocked us down," Ruszala, told HuffPost. "Yet, as many in our community regain power and water, many more remain without essential services."
  • "I can't help but be thankful that my family is OK," this father told Lin. "There's nobody to blame for things like this ...
    Dan Lin
    "I can't help but be thankful that my family is OK," this father told Lin. "There's nobody to blame for things like this ... I know that this is part of God's work. I will accept it with a smile and rebuild."
  • Emil, a security guard at one of Saipan&rsquo;s high-end hotels, lost his home in the typhoon. Lin took this photo days after
    Dan Lin
    Emil, a security guard at one of Saipan’s high-end hotels, lost his home in the typhoon. Lin took this photo days after Soudelor, while the shelters were still open.

    “He worked the night shift, going back to the shelter to sleep,” Lin said. “He walks around with a heavy heart and a broken smile.”
  • "All the tin roofing blew off," the man in the photo told Lin as he walked over the remains of his home. "We've been walking
    Dan Lin
    "All the tin roofing blew off," the man in the photo told Lin as he walked over the remains of his home. "We've been walking around the neighborhood looking for our missing roofs."
  • Lin admitted he didn't know much about this young girl,&nbsp;but she had "beautiful eyes and symmetrically shiny teeth."<br><
    Dan Lin
    Lin admitted he didn't know much about this young girl, but she had "beautiful eyes and symmetrically shiny teeth."

    This photo of her, Lin explained, was "an example of finding pockets of joy in times of great sadness."
  • "My son rides his bicycle to the grocery store each day to use the Internet&nbsp;and check to see when help is going to arriv
    Dan Lin
    "My son rides his bicycle to the grocery store each day to use the Internet and check to see when help is going to arrive," this woman explained to Lin. "The only thing keeping this wall from collapsing are two dressers that are leaning against our bed."
  • After the typhoon, many business owners did their best to resume their normal ways of life, despite a lack of electricity. Ac
    Dan Lin
    After the typhoon, many business owners did their best to resume their normal ways of life, despite a lack of electricity. According to Lin, the owner of this hair salon was still providing haircuts to customers, even with the severe damage to her building.
  • "I took out the last of my social security money to pay for clothes for my grandchildren," the&nbsp;woman holding the baby to
    Dan Lin
    "I took out the last of my social security money to pay for clothes for my grandchildren," the woman holding the baby told Lin. "I hope they never have to experience something like this again in their lifetimes."
  • After the storm, shelters were full and Joe Rios and his wife were forced to sleep in their small sedan&nbsp;as they waited f
    Dan Lin
    After the storm, shelters were full and Joe Rios and his wife were forced to sleep in their small sedan as they waited for support to arrive.

    Volunteers with United 4 Saipain helped him set up tents as temporary shelter.

    "This is the closest that Joe got to a full smile and yet is every bit as beautiful," Lin said.
  • "Her name is Momo, but everyone calls her Princess," Lin said. <br><br>"She was one of the many children at the shelter that
    Dan Lin
    "Her name is Momo, but everyone calls her Princess," Lin said.

    "She was one of the many children at the shelter that spread joy and light to others who were struggling. On this day, a local restaurant had brought over ice pops for all the kids and Princess Momo was ecstatic."

This story has been updated to include comments from Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan.

 

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