Stephen M. De Blasio, coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and 12 of his remaining staff bid adieu to the islands last Saturday with a mixed sense of thankfulness for having been of help to the CNMI and sadness at having to part with a community that has accepted him as one of its own.
De Blasio admitted to having a heavy heart in leaving a place he’s called home the past four months, an island forever grateful to him and his team for helping it recover from the disaster brought by Typhoon Soudelor.
“I arrived in Guam on the 31st of July with my team and then we flew over here immediately after the event. We flew to Guam to make sure we’re very close because we want to make sure whether the storm was going to hit the island or not. [On Aug. 2 the] following morning, as soon as daybreak broke, we flew over here via rotary wing aircraft [provided by] the Department of Defense.”
De Blasio applauded the federal and local coordination that clicked well right from the onset of the disaster recovery and relief effort.
“We got here immediately afterwards and we began our coordination and collaboration with acting governor Ralph DLG Torres, who was on island at the time and he’s been a great partner; and of course Gov. Eloy S. Inos was here for quite a time and he too was in a tremendous leadership role to guide priorities, establish the objectives that we have to collaboratively accomplish to get the island’s power back, get water flowing to the pipes, and dealing with over 600 folks that were sheltered in five different shelters across the island,” he said.
De Blasio said he’s appreciative of how the local community has embraced him and other FEMA personnel for their work during the disaster.
“The most fulfilling part is when people see me walking on the street or see me having breakfast, they come up to me and thank me for being here and supporting the local government in our collaborative efforts to get them back on their feet, get them on their way to full recovery,” he said.
De Blasio he will also not forget the friendships he forged with CNMI government officials and the people of the community during his stay on the island.
“The relationships that I’ve developed with governor Inos and lieutenant governor Torres; Marvin Seman, our Homeland Security and Emergency Management director, and Vicky Villagomez, as the governor’s authorized representative to approve everything we do if there’s a co-share involved on the part of the local government—they have all been great and they’ve all been great partners.”
De Blasio also had kind words for Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP). “I would be remiss if I don’t mention the support we got from him. He’s also been a great partner. He lobbies very hard to support the islands.”
Seeing how the local community recovered from the darkest days after Soudelor has put a big smile on his face.
“Walking the streets now at night in Garapan, you just see all the lights on and the businesses open and the streetlights open. To me that’s the most gratifying part. I’ve got to tell you, you become part of the local community if you’ve been out here this long. It becomes difficult to separate.”
He, however, recognizes that he and his staff have to leave at some point and go back to their assignments in the U.S. mainland and elsewhere.
“And that’s the hard part, but the relationships and the accomplishments that we’ve done with our fine partners here and the local government—that’s the rewarding part and that’s what keeps you going. [But I have to admit] there was some stressful and high pressure stuff, as you may know.”
De Blasio also marveled at how the people of Saipan endured the disaster, with their compassion and humanity still intact.
“The people here are a vey grateful people. They’re a very compassionate people. I’ve seen folks here step up and help their neighbors because it begins at that level. Disasters, as we say in FEMA, is they begin and end at the local level.”