FOOD, WATER SCARCE ON DEVASTATED YAP

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By Katie Worth

COLONIA, Yap (Pacific Daily News, April 15) - Of the dozens of people interviewed in Yap over the past two days, not one could remember a typhoon that slammed this island as hard as Sudal did last week.

The devastation is immense. All over the island, homes have been blown away; nearly all vegetation is dead or dying; people have no place to bathe and drinking water is not easy to come by. At night, the clear skies shine with millions of stars because there is no electricity to light up the night sky.

More than 1,000 of the 6,000 people on the main island of Yap are living in shelters, but the number of homeless people is much greater than that: the most recent figures coming out of the Governor's Disaster Command Center estimate that about 85 percent of homes are damaged or destroyed. Many of the homeless are staying with relatives or neighbors; others are sleeping without shelter on their properties.

Many houses were simply blown down by the winds, which reached at least 125 mph, said Peter Garamfel, public information officer for the Governor's Disaster Coordination Committee. The generally low household income, combined with high prices of imported building materials, means that most island residents do not live in cement homes, he said.

But in many areas, more damaging than the high winds were the floods. Because the typhoon hit precisely at high tide, the low-lying areas of the island -- including most of Yap's capital and largest village, Colonia -- were under several feet of water, he said.

Colonia resident Angela Yefangney, 31, is among those whose houses were washed away by the ocean.

"My house was taken by the water. You cannot tell there was a house there. Not a single post," she said early yesterday morning as she waited in Colonia's community center for a meeting arranged by Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives to assess the island's damage.

She was not in her house during the storm because she had gone with her 12-year-old daughter to visit a relative in a different village last week and had been caught there during the storm.

Yefangney said she was in a cooking house, but when that house got flooded and the storm's violent winds began tearing the walls and roof apart, she had to carry a disabled friend up a cliff to a safer house.

"I don't know where I got that strength. When the wind turned to the east, I had to walk sideways. I looked like a drunk person because I was going like this," she said, zigzagging her finger through the air.

The only possessions she still has, Yefangney said, are those that she took with her to her relative's house for the weekend -- two pairs of pants, two skirts and one blouse. She said she rinses her clothes each night so she can wear them again the next day.

When asked what her reaction was when she finally got back to her home and found it was no longer there, she shook her head and laughed sadly.

"I don't even have the words," she said. "I found my (stove), but it is filled with salt water instead of kerosene. But worse is I lost my bookshelf full of books, it's all gone. My dictionaries, my thesaurus, my documents, my historical tapes. ... Those are things I cannot easily replace."

Yap's radio station, currently serving as the island's disaster command center, consists of a room with a few desks, some computers, a few radios and a plethora of cans holding the husks and red spit from chewed betel nut.

On the fifth day since the typhoon, many of the command center officials had slept very little. In addition to members of the Governor's Disaster Coordination Committee and the Peace Corps displaced from their normal projects, there was a steady stream of FEMA, Red Cross, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. military officials moving in and out of the command center.

In other rooms, radio disc jockeys make public service announcements between songs: instructing people to bury dead pigs, dogs or chickens for sanitation purposes; announcing which stores are selling kerosene; saying that the island's utilities agency has stopped allowing people to bathe at the reservoir; instructing people to dig a hole for a toilet and be sure to bury their waste; and encouraging government workers to return to work as soon as possible.

Though the island's main water treatment plant survived the typhoon, there have been major problems in water delivery to the homes that are still standing because there is no electricity to power the pumps and because water lines to the villages have leaks, Garamfel said.

Yap's power generator is functional, but the island is still without electricity because most power lines are down, he said. The utility company has fixed the lines to the hospital and to the southern Yap water system, Garamfel said. The utility corporation has pledged to restore power in Colonia by Tuesday, he said.

Telephones seem to be coming up more quickly, but because most residences and businesses have major damage or have been destroyed, there is usually nowhere to plug them in, he said.

Air Force and Coast Guard cargo planes have been delivering loads of bottled water as well as tarps and generators, and those have been distributed to representatives from Yap's villages.

Islanders are harvesting what remains of their crops and are eating these and what remains in the island's stores, but food will become a problem soon, Garamfel said, as nothing will be able to grow in the salt-saturated ground for many months.

The outer islands also felt the impact of the storm. The hardest hit was Ngulu, which had about 11 people on the island at the time of the storm, Garamfel said.

He said a boat should be sent there tomorrow to deliver potable water, which the island apparently has none of, but he said that what with Yap's own water problems, he is unsure how much aid can be spared for Ngulu.

Garamfel said he contacted the president of the Federated States of Micronesia to ask if the FSM Development Bank could extend a grace period to Yap businesses that have loans with the bank.

FSM President Joseph J. Urusemal, who is originally from one of Yap's outer islands, is scheduled to arrive on Yap this evening to assess damage on the island, said Garamfel.

"I think he'll find that Yap is indeed in a disastrous state."

As 52-year-old Serphem Seremel stood on the mound of tin, timber, clothes, pots and garbage that used to be his family's home, he explained that he had brought his family to Yap from his outer island home so that the children in the family could go to high school -- an intent that now seems distant, since Yap's schools have been suspended indefinitely as most of them are serving as temporary shelters.

He sighed.

"We will try to build our house again," he said as he looked around at his family sitting on the chunks of tin that used to be their roof.

When asked whether he had the resources for a major rebuilding project, he shook his head.

"We don't have anything. Maybe we will try to get a loan," he said.

Seremel and his family live in Madrich, a neighborhood in Colonia. Madrich was slammed harder than much of the island because it juts out into the ocean on the eastern side, where winds were very strong Thursday and Friday.

Seremel's wife, 43-year-old Mary Leyalomai, picked through the pile of debris, hammering nails out of fallen boards so no one would step on them. She said there had been 25 people living in their home before it was destroyed. Now they are scattered around the island in different shelters and government housing.

One of her nieces chased away a dog that had been quenching its thirst in one of their pots of drinking water, and another niece discussed the family's food supply. "Our food is our rice," 16-year-old Bruceleen Eyangbung said. "We eat only rice and a little canned meat."

April 15, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

 

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