Never again


Two weeks’ worth of news about Typhoon Soudelor’s heart-wrenching devastation on Saipan and the painstaking steps to full recovery convinced many on the islands that prudence was the best course. So they sprang into action ahead of Tropical Storm Goni’s forecasted approach to ensure the safety of their family and property.

“Goni,” a Korean word for “swan,” made its presence felt in the CNMI mainly with its gusty winds from Saturday night to early Sunday morning but residents seemed to be better prepared this time around, thanks to lessons learned from Soudelor.

People filled their vehicles with gas ahead of time, made sure they have enough diesel to run their power generators, did their laundry, stored water and food, readied their first-aid kits, candles and lighters, charged their mobile phones, prepared their transistor radio, secured their homes, got their typhoon shutters ready, and secured loose objects around their property so they won’t be picked up by winds and pose danger to people and property.

Residents heeded government advisories to seek safer shelters that, by 6pm Saturday, all Public School System emergency shelters on Saipan, Tinian and Rota were already filled to capacity. The government had to open the Commonwealth Arts Council Gallery on Capital Hill to also accommodate individuals seeking refuge.

One could only hope that this kind of preparation in the CNMI will be consistent throughout the year.

Before Soudelor directly hit Saipan two weeks ago, residents might have considered staying put in their wood-and-tin houses given that Goni was only a tropical storm and not a typhoon. But they knew better this time around.

For other people, seeking safer shelters also meant staying with their relatives or neighbors living in sturdier houses and away from flood-prone areas.

Goni’s overall effect was not as devastating as worst case scenarios had anticipated. It’s not as destructive as Soudelor, but Goni’s gusty winds and rains still managed to knock off some more trees and property, pick up debris that Soudelor caused, knock off power at least on Rota and cause flooding in certain areas.

In Guam, Goni dumped a record rainfall of 9.64 inches on Saturday, beating the previous record of 5.14 inches in 1981, according to the Guam office of the U.S. National Weather Service on Sunday morning. Guam experienced heavy flooding around the island starting on Saturday, destroying property and making some roads impassable.

The CNMI and Guam are currently in the middle of a strong El Niño weather pattern, NWS Guam says. This means there is an increased risk of typhoons this year in the Marianas where, historically, October and November are when most typhoons have passed over or near it.

It’s only August, yet the Marianas has already seen its share of destructive typhoons and storms so continued vigilance and preparation is needed. Saipan is still reeling from the massive destruction of Soudelor two weeks ago, while some Guam residents are also still reeling from Typhoon Dolphin’s destruction in May.

When Goni passed near the islands, over a hundred people on Saipan were still in temporary shelters because of Soudelor, and thousands more were still living without power, food and other emergency supplies.

But it’s good to know that Saipan is now seeing signs of progress as it pulls itself together after Soudelor’s direct hit left the island in shambles. Help for Saipan residents continue to arrive from different federal agencies and the U.S. military, and from private sources within the CNMI and from Guam, Hawaii, other U.S. states, and other places.

Private citizens continue to do extraordinary things of bringing drinking water, food and other emergency supplies to people who have yet to get those reliefs from the local and federal government.

As Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said in his latest weekly e-newsletter, “basic public infrastructure is beginning to come back to life,” including water services. “Over the last week there have been many reasons to give us all hope,” he said, as he cited specific examples.

These include having the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s contractors begin their door-to-door inspections of some 2,600 homes that Soudelor damaged; the distribution of FEMA-provided emergency aid such as food, tents, disaster kits and other relief supplies; $146,000 in debit cards handed out to pay for fuel, phone cards, and laundry; the installation of more phone lines for the American Red Cross so people can make appointments and not wait in line; the Commonwealth Health Center now has electricity from the grid, courtesy of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. crew and help from the Guam Power Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; debris removal with the help of the U.S. Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit; and resumption of water services to many of the villages.

Using a reverse osmosis purification system, the U.S. Marines started distributing drinking water at five locations on Saipan. Perhaps the CNMI government should considering investing in a similar system to convert seawater into drinking water to be able to immediately provide relief to people in times of disasters, instead of waiting for the U.S. military or the federal agency to do so.

Lawmakers, more than ever, should start appropriating money to pay at least portions of the government’s over $30 million debt to CUC so that the latter will also have money to buy backup power poles, transformers, conductors and other supplies that should come handy after typhoons knock down power poles and cause power outages.

The impacts of the government’s wrong budget decisions and reckless spending are now coming back to haunt not only lawmakers and other elected officials but also the whole of the CNMI. Saipan alone is not expected to have full power services for at least a month. It takes weeks to ship needed utilities supply to Saipan, assuming CUC has spare money to make the necessary purchase.

Elected leaders still have time to do the right thing as the fiscal year 2016 budget has yet to pass the Legislature and reach the governor’s desk. This, again, should be coupled with a more efficient emergency preparedness plan and ensuring the government knows what to do and how to do it in times of disasters.

Again, while Soudelor destroyed Saipan homes and property, it failed to destroy people’s humanity, determination to rise up again, kindness and perseverance, although some could have used a little bit more patience, understanding and gratefulness.

Haidee V. Eugenio Dayao
This post is published under the Contributing Author. He/she does not normally work for Saipan Tribune but contributes for a specific topic or series.

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