President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands from Super Typhoon Yutu, opening the door to a range of federal assistance for recovery, but thousands of Saipan and Tinian residents are still without access to drinking and tap water as of Saturday.
Hundreds of military and other federal agency personnel led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are now on Saipan and Tinian for assessment, response and recovery efforts.
Relief supplies such as drinking water and food continued to arrive Saturday.
CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres announced in a press conference that federal partners FEMA and the Department of Defense, along with local agencies, will prioritize access to water, food and medical care.
South Korea, meanwhile, sent a military transport plane to Saipan to bring home more than 1,000 stranded Korean tourists because of Yutu, state-run Yonhap News Agency said.
Edward B. Mendiola, deputy director of the Commonwealth Ports Authority, and Del. Gregorio Kilili Sablan, confirmed the South Korean government’s transport of its own citizens out of Saipan on Saturday.
Saipan International Airport remains closed to commercial airlines because of damages, but military and other aircraft for humanitarian reasons started using the airport since Friday.
‘Soudelor all over again’
Thousands still do not have access to drinking and tap water as of Saturday, raising concerns about health and sanitation.
“It’s Soudelor all over again,” according to Rep. Ed Propst, a member of the CNMI House of Representatives.
The lawmaker is referring to Typhoon Soudelor that hit Saipan in 2015 and left the island without water and power for up to four months.
Besides the shutdown of water supply, there’s also massive power outage on Saipan, Tinian and Rota as Yutu knocked down hundreds of power poles and related infrastructure.
Saipan laundromats and stores began to reopen, and the line at Saipan Ice and Star Water is “ridiculously long,” Propst said.
Saipan residents said they waited up to three hours on the road early Saturday morning for their turn to fill up their vehicle tank in available gas stations.
Yutu nearly destroyed neighborhoods, damaged vehicles, schools, hotels, businesses and airports. It resulted in one death and multiple injuries.
Yutu’s sustained winds of 178 mph passed directly over Tinian. It is the strongest storm on record to ever hit U.S. soil and tied for the most powerful storm on Earth in 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Trump’s Oct. 26 major disaster declaration, which was announced Saturday morning on Saipan, triggers the release of federal funds to help people and communities recover from Yutu that hit the CNMI’s Tinian and Saipan.
This comes a day after U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency for the CNMI, which involves sending more than 50 medical and public health personnel, along with medical supplies and equipment, to the islands.
Under a major disaster declaration, the CNMI is poised to receive both individual assistance to help residents fix their homes and public assistance to help the CNMI government cover costs like power system repairs.
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Source: USA Today