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Super Typhoon Nepartak

After spending some time in Taipei, Hubby and I decided to take a road trip around Taiwan.  We left the city and headed down the east coast of the island to spend our first night in Taitung.  We found a wonderful hotel with an outdoor pool and air conditioning, which were both enjoyable because it’s hotter than the devil’s backside in Taiwan in July.

Enjoying the hotel's pool and spa in Taiwan before the super typhoon

The calm before the storm

As I’m wary of meat in many foreign countries and therefore prefer to eat vegetarian, we sought out the one person in the entire hotel, the hotel manager, who spoke any English.  In the middle of a broken conversation about the dinner menu, he passively mentioned a typhoon.  I’m sorry, a what?

We quickly got online to check the news (which was difficult, as the storm wasn’t covered much by the English-speaking world).  Turns out Typhoon Nepartak was headed our way.  As an Iowan, I’m not too familiar with oceanic storms, and my experience is limited to Massachusetts, where storms take weeks to hit, and when they do, it’s wind and rain.  Apparently it’s different at the Tropic of Cancer in July.

Crap. What to do?  We were on an island, and we only had about a day before the storm would hit.  The airports were all at least a half-day’s drive away, and they were closing anyway.

While we studied the spaghetti models and pondered what to do, it exploded into a category 5 super typhoon. Making the best of a bad situation, we hunkered down. (Sorry, Mom!)

It started in the dark of night.  Since our hotel room was a kilometer from the ocean and on the 14th floor, we opted to spend the night awake in the lobby.  For about six hours the storm screamed like a freight train. It shook the windows and popped our eardrums.  In the distance we could see transformers sparking and bursting into flames.  Occasionally the hotel was hit by metal signs that had broken off of buildings. Periodically we lost power.  Water poured down the elevator shaft and staircases, flooding the lobby with several inches of water.  At one point the hotel doors flew open, and the freight train flew full force into the dining room.  I was more than wary when Hubby helped the hotel staff tie the door shut.

Hubby and I, both fascinated and terrified by the storm, shot videos all night, even posting them to Twitter when the Wi-Fi was working.  (Yes, it was stupid.) Since we were one of only two Westerners in the area, our videos were picked up by The Weather Channel and the BBC.  (We even had an interview scheduled in the morning with ABC World News, which was cancelled when five police officers were shot in Dallas.)

As the sun lit the morning sky we could start to see the damage. The street was littered with overturned cars, trees, huge metal signs, and trash.  From our room we could see buildings without roofs, and defoliated palm trees.  The sidewalk was covered in broken glass.  Roads were flooded, including the car garage under the hotel, which was where our rental car was. (When we rented the car we didn’t think twice when we were told that the insurance didn’t cover flood damage.)

Eventually the rain let up.  The winds slowed, then stopped.  There was an eerily calm period of about twenty minutes when the sky was perfectly still and the sun even came out.  When the winds started again from the complete opposite direction we realized…. The eye of the storm had literally gone over our heads!

The other tourists in the hotel clearly weren’t as shaken by the storm.  It was breakfast time!  Busloads of people flooded into the dining room, expecting to be waited on, from a staff that had spent the night mopping floors, cleaning broken glass, and making sure the building was safe, all from a kitchen that didn’t have power.  And did I mention how hot it was?  Sauna hot.  While the tourists became belligerent with the staff, we took a different approach, and pitched in and helped. The result?  We made friends (although I’m still not sure what anyone said!).  We even ate meals with them, and all laughed together as they tried to show us the proper way to use chopsticks.

We stayed another two nights while the rest of the storm passed and the roads were cleared.  Needless to say, our road trip wasn’t going to work out as planned, as it wasn’t safe to swim at any of the beaches, and most of the resorts were hit pretty hard by the storm.  But it was an experience we will never forget.  And anyway…. What’s the worst that could happen?

What do you think? Have you ever found yourself exploring the world only to face nature’s wrath?  Leave your stories in the comments below!

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