166 seek shelter as Bavi batters NMI

Power lines, trees down, causing islandwide outages; 166 people taken to shelters

Erratic Tropical Storm Bavi battered the CNMI yesterday, knocking down power lines and trees, and causing damage to some houses and structures, triggering islandwide power outages, and sending 166 people to evacuation centers.

Airlines cancelled their flights, all seaports were closed to vessels, and recreational dive sites and beaches were closed until further notice due to strong currents and high surf. The Public School System will close all public schools today, Monday, and most private schools will also have no schools today.

Strong winds brought by Tropical Storm Bavi topples a portion of a fence at the main gate of Dandan Middle School yesterday. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Strong winds brought by Tropical Storm Bavi topples a portion of a fence at the main gate of Dandan Middle School yesterday. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Dandan Middle School vice principal Reo Arriola and maintenance worker Abel Valenzuela check the school’s water pump after strong winds brought by Tropical Storm Bavi blew off its roof yesterday. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Dandan Middle School vice principal Reo Arriola and maintenance worker Abel Valenzuela check the school’s water pump after strong winds brought by Tropical Storm Bavi blew off its roof yesterday. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Typhoon Bavi’s strong winds topple a tree in Kagman III across the Lao Lao Bay Golf Resort. This blocked the main road toward the school area in Kagman. Government staff are seen here trimming the tree, while cars use an alternative route near the sidewalk to avoid the tree. (Jayson Camacho)

Typhoon Bavi’s strong winds topple a tree in Kagman III across the Lao Lao Bay Golf Resort. This blocked the main road toward the school area in Kagman. Government staff are seen here trimming the tree, while cars use an alternative route near the sidewalk to avoid the tree. (Jayson Camacho)

As of press time, there was no report as to the extent of damage on Rota, where Bavi’s center was expected to advance near the island last night.

As of 7pm, the center of Tropical Storm Bavi was only 20 miles east of Rota, 65 miles south of Tinian, 65 miles northeast of Guam, and 70 miles south-southwest of Saipan. Its gale force winds extend outward up to 200 miles northwest through northeast of the center and 40 miles elsewhere.

Packing maximum winds of 60 miles per hour, Bavi was moving west at 23 mph, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

As of 8pm, tropical storm warning remained in effect for Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam. Tropical storm force winds of 39 mph or greater are expected through early morning today.

Starting at 3pm, the skies over Saipan, Tinian, and Rota were already dark, as strong winds and heavy rains pounded the islands, rendering roads to almost zero visibility.

As of 5pm, the center of Bavi was 65 miles southeast of Tinian, 70 miles south-southeast of Saipan and 120 miles east-northeast of Guam.

As of 2pm, Gov. Eloy S. Inos maintained Tropical Storm Condition 1 for Saipan, Tinian, and Rota because of the anticipated threat.

Emergency shelter
As part of the emergency operations, the government activated shelters for the three islands yesterday to allow residents to seek safer ground as the storm inched closer to the islands.

On Saipan, the shelters were the Kagman High School, Koblerville Elementary School, Tanapag Middle School, Dandan Middle School, and Garapan Elementary School.

On Tinian, the designated shelter was the Tinian Elementary School, while on Rota the shelters were the Aging Office and the Dr. Rita Hocog Inos High School.

A visit to Dandan Middle School at 3pm showed that a portion of its steel fence at the main gate had been damaged by the strong winds. Winds also blew out the roof of the school’s water pump.

Dandan Middle School vice principal and shelter manager Reo Arriola and maintenance worker Abel Valenzuela were assisting 19 people in the cafeteria, which was the designated evacuation center of the school because it is the only concrete room.

Arriola said that families started to arrive at their school at 1pm.

Jose Joseph, 56, of Dandan Homestead, was the first to go to the Dandan Middle School evacuation center. He brought his wife and a grandson to the school because their house is semi-concrete.

Joseph and his wife are regular evacuees at the Dandan school during major storms or typhoons.

As of 5pm, there were 60 who took shelter at the Koblerville Elementary School. No damage to school property was reported at this time.

No classes
Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan informed parents and legal guardians of students attending public schools that there will be no classes today, Monday, and there will be no work for PSS employees.

Grace Christian Academy on Saipan will also have no classes today, according to its principal Beth Ann Nunez.

Other private schools that have no classes today are Mount Carmel School, Agape Christian School, and Saipan International School. Other private schools did not notify the media about their plans.

After consulting maritime officials, Inos declared all seaports closed to vessels starting at 12pm yesterday.

Inos said they are following the necessary procedures in making sure that life and property are spared as the storm approaches.

“The proper officials are working with their crews in assessing all areas that need to be addressed, and, trust me, they are doing all they can to troubleshoot any areas that need attention. If you feel as if you need to vacate your homes for a safer roof, please prepare your families to evacuate,” Inos said.

The governor also ordered the closure of recreational dive sites and beaches due to strong currents and high surf generated by Bavi.

The governor’s office received information that some individuals were braving the dangerous sea conditions.

Marvin Seman, special assistant for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said they received several calls about some houses being damaged due to strong winds, and downed power lines.

Seman said they tried to discourage beachgoers from entering the waters because of the risk of being swept out by currents and waves.

Seman said the CNMI has been lucky so far that there were no reported storm-related injuries. He disclosed, though, that they received reports about some vehicles getting hit by flying debris and falling trees and branches on Saipan

“With this storm, it was a very difficult to track as it kind of progressed and sped up every now and then,” Seman said.

Islandwide outage
Commonwealth Utilities Corp. executive director Alan Fletcher said power was down islandwide and that outages started yesterday morning when feeders began going down.

Fletcher said they had their crews out restoring what power they can, but until winds subside “it’s going to stay pretty spotty as for power supply.”

Fletcher said it is hard to keep feeders up with the intense winds. He said crews believe that some of the power lines were touching each other due to the winds, causing them to trip feeders.

He said crews are fully staffed, with six operators at their call center in full emergency operation mode to get power restored islandwide.

On Rota, power appeared stable, Fletcher said, while on Tinian, the feeder was down and they were working to get it up.

He could not give an estimate on when power would be fully restored but assured that CUC has its entire staff out working and crews are on standby.

He disclosed that water supplies have also been affected.

“Water should be out for areas that rely on a pump. Other areas might last a while with water if they have reservoir. But if the power’s out, those wells are going to be out,” he added.

Flights cancelled
United Airlines canceled all afternoon flights scheduled to arrive at or depart from Guam yesterday. The last departure from Guam was flight number UA196 or Guam to Tokyo/Narita that departed Guam at 12:40pm yesterday.

Cape Air/United Express also cancelled all flights scheduled to arrive at or depart from Guam yesterday and this morning, Monday.

United Airlines’ customers ticketed on flights to, from or through Guam, may reschedule their itineraries in advance of the storm with a one-time date or time change, and the airline will waive the change fees.

Customers can find complete details, eligible travel dates, and updates at united.com.

A Delta flight set to arrive from Japan during the afternoon was also cancelled. The Narita flight attempted to land at the Francisco C. Ada International Airport but was unable to and had to return to Japan. Subsequently, its 4:20 departure flight was cancelled. Out of precaution, the flight had carried extra-fuel.

As of press time, Delta’s morning flight arrival at 1:25 this morning was still scheduled. Its status would depend on weather conditions.

According to flightstats.com, an Asiana flight set to depart at 3:20 was also cancelled.

Red Cross ready
American Red Cross NMI Chapter executive director John Hirsh said they are prepared and ready to provide assistance to Bavi’s victims.

“Basically as the storm approaches the islands we are providing support on the emergency operations center and we’re in contact with our volunteers on Rota and Tinian,” Hirsh said.

He said they will follow up on those damaged houses and do an assessment on the residents and what the damage is and then they will proceed to provide assistance. (With reports from Dennis Chan, Joel Pinaroc, and Jayson Camacho)

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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