Yesterday was the start of National Preparedness Month throughout the United States. As recognized every September, it is a time when we can all take a moment to recognize those who help in keeping us safe during times of peril and disaster. It is also a time when we are reminded to do our part in making sure that we, the people who call our islands home, are prepared and know what to do when calamity strikes.
The Commonwealth’s location in the Western Pacific makes it a vulnerable and a target for the worst Mother Nature provides. We are one of the few places in the world that is situated both within the realm of the Ring of Fire and Typhoon Alley. Every day, the threat of typhoons, tropical storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions can be found at our doorstep; it is a danger that we grow up with and learn to adapt to as islanders. But, along with natural disasters, we face the dangers of an ever-changing world. In days where the threat of crime, terrorism, both physical and invisible run rampant in other countries, we are reminded to stay vigilant and cautious to these real-world dangers as well.
Disaster can come in many forms and during the month of September, we are each year asked to honor preparedness, the task of always being ready for the circumstances that life and nature throw our way. It is exceptionally fitting this year that we as a people commemorate this observance at a time where we all share in the task of recovering and rebuilding.
Today marks one month after Typhoon Soudelor battered our islands, most especially Saipan. After a Sunday that brought heavy rain and catastrophic winds right over us, we woke up Monday morning to a paradise devastated. Trees uprooted, infrastructure crippled, homes damaged and destroyed, and some of our friends and neighbors left displaced because of the destruction—some lost everything. Fortunately, we all lived through it. This system was one of the strongest, if not THE strongest storm to hit our shores. The pictures both captured on camera and in memory will be fresh on our minds for quite some time. But despite the carnage it left, there was one thing it did not damage: our unshakable spirit to overcome.
Though this disaster blew rooftops or caved them in, it did not shake our resolve or our sense of perseverance in the face of such great adversity. We came together, helped each other, picked up the pieces strewn across our main streets and yards, and worked in restoring our villages to normalcy. Our first responders went above and beyond in ensuring the safety of both lives and property during the moments of confusion and uncertainty.
With assistance from such partners as FEMA and superb volunteer organizations both on- and off-island, families in need were able to receive essentials such as food, water, clothing, hygiene supplies, and insect repellents to help them get through extremely difficult aftermath of the storm.
With help from friends near and far, we are working to restore critical services to our residents, turning water pumps on, well by well, erecting electric poles where pillars once stood before becoming debris, energizing power lines one feeder at a time, making sure the hospital was ready to accept individuals who needed to avail of medical services. Though there is still much work that needs to be done, through resilience we have made so much progress with the resources both on hand and afforded to us from abroad.
My appreciation is extended to a whole lot of people for their service and sacrifice. I commend Lt. Gov. Torres, during my absence, for the work he has done since the telecommunication cable was damaged to Soudelor’s passing in helping to steer the course to normalcy. I also extend my appreciation to Guam Gov. Calvo, Lt. Gov. Tenorio and Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar for bringing Guam assets together to support us in our time of need. I am grateful to Mr. Stephen DeBlasio, federal partners, and the hundreds of FEMA personnel who still help us in mitigating damage and helping residents get assistance during this recovery phase.
I tip my hat to Ms. Vicky Villagomez as the Governor’s Authorized Representative, the Homeland Security & Emergency Management Special Assistant Marvin Seman and his staff who still work in tandem with our men and women in uniform and other agencies in assessing areas in most need of assistance and relief. I extend my sincere appreciation to our Commonwealth Utilities Corp. with help from our partners from Guam and all over Micronesia, for working non-stop in fixing pipes and poles around the island. To our business community and relief organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, United 4 Saipan, Empty Vessel, Karidat and the countless volunteers of charities both on- and off-island for going into the villages and collecting relief to those who need it most, you are shining examples of selflessness worth being recognized this month. For all you’ve done and continue to do, Thank you, Si Yu’os Ma’åse and Olomwááy.
And most especially, I thank you residents for your patience and understanding during these last several weeks as relief efforts continue. It is the perseverance you give that help those helping you strive even more to finish this mission, and restore our islands back to normal. The need for preparation should not be set aside for one month out of the year, but every day of the year. In addition, it is from experiences like this that we should always remain vigilant in the wake of any calamity that may threaten us.
The month of September as the first month anniversary after Typhoon Soudelor struck is generally observed as National Preparedness Month. However, given our unique situation, we are compelled to dedicate this month as an All Recovery Efforts Month. I hope that by next year we can observe National Preparedness Month because we will be stronger than we were yesterday.
In closing, I would like to quote President Obama’s opening words after proclaiming this same declaration last year, “In times of emergency, our nation pulls together—neighbors support each other, communities react with compassion, and afterward, our country emerges stronger and more resilient.” That is happening all around us, and we should be grateful for it. Pole by pole, brick by brick, we will be stronger than we were yesterday, and together, stand as a community prepared for any and every calamity in our way.
Eloy S. Inos is governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.