‘Soudelor taught CNMI a lesson’

Saipan’s experience with Typhoon Soudelor three years ago taught the CNMI a painful lesson when it comes to disaster preparedness, with the government this time being proactive even before Typhoon Mangkhut swept through the Commonwealth.

Rota was the hardest hit when Mangkhut passed the Marianas on Monday yet, just two days later, only 2 percent of Rota remains without water.

Commonwealth Utilities Corp. personnel had already restored power at the Rota Health Center. The Rota Mayor’s Office and the Office of Aging—used as shelters—are running on generators.

“Soudelor was a big part of our preparation for [Typhoon] Mangkhut. We learned a lot from our failures and I think this time we took a lot of efforts and precautionary measures to make our community was as prepared as possible,” said Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), the House Ways and Means Committee chair.

He said he would work with House floor leader Glenn Maratita (R-Rota), the Rota Legislative Delegation, and the entire Municipality of Rota to see what kind of assistance the Legislature could provide.

“The unfortunate thing is, while there are some damage on Saipan and Tinian, Rota was hit very hard. We saw preliminary reports from Rota and very stark reminders of Soudelor where poles are down on the streets. The big difference this time, we mobilized the heavy equipment and resources before the storm landed on Rota.”

He added that the preparations made by different government agencies before Mangkhut hit Rota resulted in the quick response. “I understand that they [debris] have been removed. I brought this up because, after Soudelor, it took weeks to bring power back on Saipan.”

“Just hours after the storm passed, all the equipment and manpower were out and about, clearing the roadways. …We can’t tell at this point on how long it’s going to take to re-energize the island [but] we can tell it wouldn’t be quicker had we not learned from Soudelor.”

Demapan said he is also thankful to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres asking President Donald J. Trump to declare a state of emergency, hours before Mangkhut’s arrival. “I want to say that I’m very grateful to Gov. [Ralph DLG] Torres for immediately sending a request for emergency declaration and, at the same time, thankful to President Trump with the White House immediately approving it.”

“We’re confident that it has something with the Torres and Trump administration’s relationship. This is a disaster, but we’d also seen in the past that, in the face of disaster, there’s still bureaucratic red tape that we have to get through. Whatever reason it may be, I’m thankful that this happened.”

He added that the state of emergency declaration for the CNMI would guarantee that federal resources would be used in the rebuilding and recovery efforts for the people or Rota and others that were greatly affected by Mangkhut.

Sen. Teresita A. Santos (R-Rota) said the island sustained damage to houses, agricultural crops, and other vegetation. The government has yet to release a final assessment of the amount of agricultural crops damaged by the typhoon.

“Rota sustained damage for the most part on vegetation and agricultural crops. There were also a lot of damage incurred on residential homes’ tin roofing and wooden structures,” said Santos.

“Many homes were impacted with flooding so the extent of damage in these homes are severe. …Secondary roads were affected due to erosion and passages to farm areas are difficult.”
She said that 21 families had sought shelter at the Rita H. Inos Jr./Sr. High School, one of the typhoon shelters opened.

Santos also thanked the Governor’s Office, Department of Fire and Emergency Services, CNMI Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Rota Mayor’s Office, Department of Public Safety, Rota Health Center, Aging Office, Commonwealth Utilities Corp., Rita Inos High School, and all the departments and agencies that assisted the people of Rota.

”With this, we pray for an expeditious recovery on our island so everything will go back to normalcy,” Santos added.

Torres also instructed the CNMI Office of the Attorney General during yesterday’s Cabinet meeting to check and monitor price gouging to protect consumers.

Press secretary Kevin Bautista also assured that food and drinking water supply on Rota is enough, with more resources expected to arrive through FEMA and military partners.

Torres joins inspection

Torres yesterday joined the assessment team to check on the damage brought by Mangkhut on the islands of Rota and Tinian. Lt. Gov. Victor B. Hocog, Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig joined Torres in the meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in meeting with the military in assessing the recovery and relief efforts.

Providing shelter, food, and water to all displaced families were the immediate needs that local and federal officials agreed on after the meeting.

Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña and Hospital and Public Health Preparedness Program director Warren Villagomez were also on Rota to check on the Rota Health Center.

The emergency declaration secured the immediate help of the federal government, with the military committing to provide transportation in providing assistance to the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam while FEMA establishes a foothold in assessing the damage brought by Typhoon Mangkhut.

Torres has also appointed and authorized special assistants Virginia C. Villagomez (Management and Budget) and Gerald J. Guerrero (HSEM) in coordinating the delivery of FEMA generators to Rota. The generators would provide power to critical public services.

The U.S. Department of Defense has also provided the delivery of water supply for the people of Rota.

Rota government reopens

Torres has also advised that all government offices on Rota resume operations today, while also cautioning residents to remain careful while driving on the road, especially in areas that are severely damaged.

He said that local and federal officials would continue their damage assessment for the three islands. “We are allocating and prioritizing the necessary government resources for recovery efforts and mass care assistance on the island of Rota.”

“We, along with our federal and military partners, will continue to monitor emergency support functions on all three islands with specific focus on the needs of our people on Rota,” added Torres.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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