Local and federal partners are looking at all possible ways to help fast track the recovery of Rota after Typhoon Mangkhut barreled through the CNMI’s southernmost island last week. Mangkhut’s more than 139mph winds brought down power and telephone poles, and ripped tin roofs from houses while dumping 10 inches of rain.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Health and Human Services, Energy, Agriculture, and the Department of Defense are some of the agencies and departments by the U.S. federal government that are assisting local authorities in Rota’s recovery efforts.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, in a press conference with House Ways and Means Committee chair Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) last Friday, said that despite Saipan and Tinian also suffering some damage, it wasn’t as significant as Rota.
The island was without power and water for only a few days, with Commonwealth Utilities Corp. personnel, who were sent to Rota before Mangkhut’s arrival, fixing the damage after the storm left.
Torres said that looking for construction materials that would be used to rebuild the houses and other structures brought down by Mangkhut is the next thing that needs to be done. “We went over at different hardware [stores] and looked at their capacity to provide materials and, of course, we looked at their prices.”
“We acknowledge that Rota’s prices is a lot more expensive than we have here, let alone the availability of materials. So, all that will be put into consideration in making our report to President [Trump],” added Torres, who sent a letter to the White House to ask Trump to declare the CNMI under a state of emergency.
He said that they are looking to transport some construction materials to Rota. But doing this also poses a challenge.
“It is easier to do that [transporting materials to Rota] for government buildings, but once you get into private costs, that’s something that we need to work the logistics out. With FEMA assisting the homes, there are different programs for that,” said Torres.
“You’ve seen it through our [Commonwealth Advocates for Recovery Efforts] where FEMA helped out on the labor and the private home [owners] provided the materials. That’s a partnership that we’re also looking at.”
The weather head, a weatherproof device used as an entry point of power or telephone wires into homes or buildings, is another issue, according to Torres. He said they are expected to order more to replace the ones damaged during the typhoon.
“Whatever the plans we have for Rota, we’re going to extend that to Saipan and Tinian. The damage is not as critical like Rota. For example, the weather head. If Saipan and Tinian need 50, and Rota 100, we’re going to go order that in bulk. Our request is for the entire CNMI, of course but we’re going to separate the needs for Rota because they were hit the hardest and had zero power after the typhoon.”
Torres said that authorities are still assessing the extent of the damage wrought by Typhoon Mangkhut on properties and agriculture on Rota. “We’re still doing our assessment on Rota but, based on preliminary reports, there are about 50 power poles that were knocked down. We still have to count the poles that have cracks and were displaced, and these have to also be changed. …Even if it’s crooked or cracked, we’re going to replace them, hopefully with concrete. I know it’s more expensive but we want to make sure the community is resilient and storm-ready.”
He added that Rota’s crops, especially the camote, is the next thing that’s being assessed to determine how much the farmers lost to the typhoon. “We’re getting into that. I spoke to USDA [Farm Service Agency Country executive director for Guam and CNMI] Tom Camacho [last week] and he’s getting his team to come down to Rota.”
“Again, that’s [agriculture], a separate section of FEMA but, of course, that has its own requirement. They will be going out talking to the farmers, who would need proper documentation in order to maximize our requests to FEMA,” said Torres, who added that USDA officials were expected to arrive last weekend to help Rota’s farmers and ranchers.
For now, Rota has enough supply of canned goods, ready-to-cook food, and other basic needs for everyday living. “Hopefully that won’t be an issue in the coming weeks and months.”
Last Saturday, the Department of Fire and Emergency Management Services held the Ayuda Luta relief fund drive at the Garapan Fishing Base where two containers were filled immediately with donations of canned goods, bottled water, clothes, and other hygiene products from the Saipan community.
“One case of water or one sack of rice would go a long way to individuals out there [on Rota]. Any assistance from off-island would go a long way. We do really need any contribution and a little help goes a long way to our brothers and sisters in need on Rota.”
Torres said it’s a bit hard to get basic commodities and other resources shipped to Rota. “Unlike for us here, Saipan and Tinian, we can help each other easily,” he said.