After graduating from Lynden Christian, TJ Van Weerdhuizen went on to graduate from Dordt College, get married to his wife Emily, and took a job overseas in the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States. The islands recently lived through one of the worst typhoons ever to hit American soil.
Typhoon Yutu, a Category 5 super typhoon was the strongest of its kind to hit the Mariana Islands on record and the second strongest storm to impact the United States and its unincorporated territories as far as wind speeds. The typhoon hit the area where the Van Weerdhuizens were located Oct. 25 with sustained winds of 180 mph.
The couple lives and works in Saipan where TJ is a junior high math and science teacher at Saipan Community School and Emily works at the local library. Both businesses were severely damaged and the school has set up a GoFundMe page for the school where TJ works and where the damage was assessed at over $300k.
“On Oct. 25, super typhoon Yutu made landfall on the island of Saipan, a US Commonwealth,” TJ Weerdhuizen said. “It’s strong, sustained winds of 180 mph and gusts closer to 200 mph, leveled trees and buildings. Houses shook like paper in the wind. Concrete buildings were ripped apart. Most things that were left, were soaked with the rain. Many became homeless as their houses and shelters were pulled apart over them. Some survived by hiding under beds, in kitchen cabinets, behind fridges and inside vehicles.”
The couple had boarded up their cement apartment and waited out the storm inside their dark bunker.
“The government offices had closed at noon,” Emily Van Weerdhuizen said. “We had to put all the computers in plastic bags. They closed the library, closed all the storm shutters, and they told us all to prepare for a typhoon by getting a bunch of water, fill your cars with gas, get canned food, a portable fan, so we did all that and got all of our stuff prepared.”
The couple then waited as the storm’s northern eye wall hit Saipan.
“At first it wasn’t so bad, but then it increased in strength really fast,” she said. “From 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. it was so strong. The wind was roaring around the house, and we still had our generator going. We heard debris and coconuts hitting the sides of the apartment and our doors were bowing out a little bit. It was really scary.”
The faculty, staff, and volunteers worked tirelessly to clean and repair the school as much as possible. They were able to open the school again on Monday, November 5.
“Debris and branches cover most things,” TJ Van Weerdhuizen said. “While SCS is not short on volunteers willing to pitch in when they can, there is much more needed before the school can be in full working order again. With your help, the donations we receive will allow us to rebuild our physical education storage, generator building, student restrooms, broken plumbing, classroom storage supply, and rebuild our playground and school library.
“We would really appreciate your help spreading the word about the storm that just hit our island. We know there are a lot of people who might be willing to help us out but either don’t know how, or don’t know what happened. So if you’d be willing to help, pray for us, share our story on social media and go to our GoFundMe page: www.gofundme.com/rebuild-saipan-community-school. Donations will also be accepted directly if you would prefer. Donations can be sent to PO Box 500069 Saipan, MP 96950.
TJ Van Weerdhuizen grew up in Sumas and graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa where he met Emily. His parents Dale and Donna Van Weerdhuizen live in Sumas where they continue to run the family farm.
The couple now live in a tropical climate where normally the temperature stays consistent at 85-degrees.
“It is very nice,” Emily said. “The only disadvantage is that it’s so far away from family and it’s pretty expensive going back and forth. It also takes a really long time. It takes over 24 hours total travel time.”
And, there is the occasional typhoon. This is the second typhoon that the couple have been through in Saipan.