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Cyclones and Hurricanes and Typhoons*, Oh my!

*They have different names because of where they form. Hurricanes develop over the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific; cyclones are the rotating storms that form over the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and typhoons develop in the Northwest Pacific.

I arrived in Đà Nẵng on Saturday afternoon, September 24. Haian Beach Spa and Hotel sit right across from Mỹ Khê Beach, so shortly after check-in, I went across the street excited to dip my toes in the sand, have a drink, and relax. Unbeknownst to me, this beach, also known as China Beach, was where the first American ground troops, the US marines, landed in 1965. Semper Fi, Captain A. F. Myers! The weather was gloomy, but people were out and about on the beach. I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of surfers in the water, not because I surf but because my son Thomas is crazy about it. Later, I saw someone kiteboarding or kitesurfing for the first time here in Vietnam, of all places.

After breakfast on Sunday, I set out to discover some surrounding neighborhoods. The first one I came upon was An Thượng, a busy and crowded area with a mix of old and new architecture and where most western ex-pats live. I stopped at a restaurant owned by an American, a New Yorker, and his two Vietnamese partners. While I was enjoying a Bánh xèo and a Sàigon beer, he informed me that a typhoon named Noru was about to land in the Philippines. The forecast showed Noru would then head straight to central Việt Nam, where three major travel destinations, Huế, Đà Nẵng, and Hội An located. The timeline was from Tuesday, September 27 (my scheduled departure date) to early Wednesday morning, September 28. I asked him about his experience with typhoons, and he said he had not experienced any major storms in Vietnam. He told me not to worry and keep exploring and enjoying the city.

As soon as I returned from my walk, I got online for more information. I saw several posts about the storm from several Vietnamese Facebook group pages. I felt a range of emotions from people already in the affected areas. There were also inquiries and discussions about options from those who were thinking about coming to and leaving from Đà Nẵng and Hội An. There were people who didn't seem to worry, and there were people who were adamant about avoiding central Vietnam at all costs.

I also contacted the driver scheduled to take me to Huế for information. He confirmed Noru's pending arrival and shared his experience on how to prepare for it. It didn't take long for us to conclude that it would be wise not to take the road and risk being caught in the middle of the storm. I thought I’d ride it out and leave a few days later when it’s safe. With my decision, I went on to find a very good chicken restaurant for dinner later in the evening.

Monday, I woke up feeling at peace. Then I received a text from my driver, letting me know his tour company has decided to suspend all activities for three days. No tour or transportation will be provided from Tuesday, September 27, through Thursday, September 29. The storm was now upgraded to a CAT 4. Holy moly, "Sh*t's getting real," I thought. Still, people were going about their day without a care. I went to the front desk to find out their plan and felt we would all be well taken care of. Instructions were posted in every elevator and floor about storm preparedness and emergencies. We were told there would be extra security guards on the premise, with some assigned to be on every floor overnight. Everyone sprang into action. Some employees moved outdoor furniture, plants, and other equipment inside, while others secured windows with wires and metal bars. The kitchen was getting extra food delivered, prepping for a buffet dinner to accommodate the fact that we would have a curfew on Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 27, arrived. We were down to the wire. I was being moved from my oceanfront room to a peek-a-boo ocean-view room to avoid having a whole side of floor-to-ceiling glass wall/window. Afterward, I went to a nearby convenience store to buy water, snacks, and fruit. I ensured all my personal and valuable belongings were in one place for quick and easy access, and all my devices were charged to maximum levels. While it was nerve-wracking knowing that I was about to face a significant hurricane, seeing how steady everyone was, I felt a sense of security about the whole situation. I would be remiss not to mention that I kept in contact with my family and felt they were right by my side.

At about 7 pm on Tuesday, the winds started to howl, the waves came into shores faster and stronger, and everyone seemed ready for the storm’s arrival. With the sky turning pitch black and safety the number one priority, I reluctantly closed the curtains. I had experienced Hurricane Ana in Texas in 1983 to know that the waiting part was full of anxiety. The reality of me being in another country had me feel extra anxious. I started to think, "Wow. I have no idea what to expect. I don't have any information about the local government’s emergency response system. I don't know where to go or who to call on if something does happen." Of course, my worries were addressed throughout the day on several news channels in Vietnamese. Because I didn’t have a good understanding of all the words associated with the typhoon, I started to let fear enter my thoughts. I forgot I'd received an email from the US Embassy with information about Noru a few days earlier.

To ease my worries, I turned to the very young hotel personnel. "Don’t worry. It’s not going be that bad.” They'd all tell me. "Hmm, it seems like this is a popular response." I rationally told myself, "This is typhoon season in Vietnam, just like we have hurricane season in the US. And, every storm does not result in a catastrophic outcome."

I then turned to the internet, looking for more reassuring information. And, sometimes, scrolling social media does pay off. On Twitter, I saw posts about Noru from a few storm chasers. I was glad to see one of them follow Noru to Hội An, approximately 15 miles south of Đà Nẵng. Throughout the night, I checked his profile for real-time updates. The first video he shared was of torrential rain and howling winds uprooting trees and knocking branches to the ground from his room. Noru had been downgraded to CAT 2.

I knew I was not going to get much sleep. How could I with the deafening sounds from the violent winds smashing torrential rain against the windows? As I struggled between sitting up and lying in bed, Noru raged on outside. Finally, at about 3 am, I decided to check on things. First, I was curious whether people were taking shelter in the hallway, and second, I guess I wanted to be with people. I opened the door to a young security guard sitting between my room and the room next door while looking at his phone. He saw me and asked how I was doing and if I needed anything. When I told him I couldn’t sleep, he told me not to worry and that he was there to ensure we had proper help if the storm hit us hard. "How sweet," I thought.

I returned to my room and continued to toss and turn. I didn’t feel or notice significant changes in what was happening outside. After another excruciating15 minutes, I reached for the phone again and saw that Noru had swept through Hội An. It was a quick video of the fast-rising water level in the city center with gushing winds and heavy rain hurling through. The storm had passed us. Đà Nẵng was spared. Finally, a sense of relief overcame me. I breathed out all my anxious feelings, worries, tension, and tiredness. I kept breathing for a while longer and then managed to fall asleep.

I woke up at 7 am on Wednesday, September 28. I probably got about three hours of closed eyes, but it felt enough. I was anxious to go downstairs. I think I was more anxious to see what havoc Noru had wreaked. Even though the storm had passed us, the winds were still strong, and the surge was still high. I went to the dining room for a look outside because it had three walls with floor-to-ceiling windows. The staff was already at work, cleaning up water that managed to seep through all those windows. I glanced around quickly and was glad to see no broken glass. In the lobby, the concierge confirmed that nothing was damaged or missing based on their inspection. We were all eager to go outside to look, but the hotel advised against it. With the churning ocean and the winds maintaining their strength, they said one could get swept up in the water or injured from debris that could still be blown down. I chose to heed their advice, while some people were too curious to stay in.

By noon all airports resumed their domestic operations. An Aussie gentleman I had met a couple of days before was getting ready to fly out. I asked him about his experience, and he shared that he was sleeping soundly and would have missed the whole thing if it wasn’t for the hotel staff waking him up. Unbeknownst to him, the window they had secured with wires and metal rods had blown open. I was shocked and felt grateful that my window stayed shut. Seeing my reaction, one of the staff members told me in Vietnamese that the gentleman had had quite a few beers and decided to open the window. When security entered his room, they saw about eight emptied bottles on the nightstand. My friend was not only sound asleep, he was snoring up a storm (pun intended). It took everything I had to keep from bursting out laughing. It was the comic relief we all needed and appreciated after a stressful night.

By Thursday afternoon, September 29, I decided it was calm and safe enough to take a walk. On the boardwalk, there was sand everywhere. There was sand on some parts of the main drag too. The surge was still about 3 or 4 feet high. I avoided the beach and walked a few blocks inland and through several alleys. Many restaurant and business owners were picking up debris, sweeping broken glass, and sawing off uprooted trees and branches.

As bad as things looked, I could tell there was no catastrophic level of damage. No loss of lives was reported, and people were ready to return to their daily lives. I wasn’t too surprised to hear that most had already started the cleaning process several hours after the storm had passed. I’ve also seen videos and pictures of Hội An. The folks I met there said it could have been much worse. Noru was unfortunate, but it seemed like a minor setback. Many people said Vietnam had to deal with much worse in the two years it was shut down because of Covid. Vietnamese people are known for their resilience, and because Central Vietnam is a mega tourist destination, I know they will be back on their feet in no time.

I managed to get in a couple of stops on the day I left for Huế: the Dragon Bridge in the city center and the Golden Bridge in Bà Nà Hills.

Until next time...

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