BABAUTA DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN CNMI

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 30) -- Governor Juan N. Babauta yesterday declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, due to the extensive damage caused by typhoon Tingting.

The typhoon pounded the islands, especially Saipan, with damaging winds of over 75 miles per hour and with torrential rains on Sunday and Monday.

Damage was mostly in agriculture and critical infrastructure like roads, utilities and the government hospital.

"In all the typhoons I’ve been through, I thought that this was the most extensive in terms of water damage, caused by heavy rains and floods," Babauta told Variety. "I’ve never seen the island (of Saipan) as flooded as it was."

Babauta said the emergency declaration is necessary for local government to identify and mobilize available resources to provide assistance to the public and maintain essential services.

The government is now preparing a "damage assessment report."

Babauta said while there is minimal structural damage, the non-stop rains weeks before the typhoon would have some impact on the "foundations" of buildings and houses, and even roads.

"That concerns me," the governor said.

The typhoon caused the temporary evacuation of over 300 Saipan children and adults by early yesterday morning and close to 2,000 stranded tourists due to cancellation of all airline flights.

It also resulted in blown away roofs, collapsed houses, damaged crops, uprooted trees, debris all around the islands, power and water outages and sewer backflow, among other things.

Meanwhile, damage to Saipan’s crops was close to 100 percent.

"Preliminary assessment points to at least $1 million loss in agriculture on Saipan alone," said Isidoro T. Cabrera, an agricultural consultant for the Northern Marianas College’s Cooperative Research, Extension and Education Service.

Tingting, which is Chinese for "young girls," brought 13 inches of rainfall between Saturday and Monday alone, he added.

Babauta said Rota and Tinian continue to assess Tingting’s damage to agricultural crops.

Rota is also assessing the harbor and roadways, while Tinian reported structural damage to the dock and marina, along with the sinking of two boats.

At 8 am yesterday, the governor declared an "all clear" condition for Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Pagan, but maintained typhoon condition 3 for Agrihan as of 2 pm.

But while residents young or old felt sad about the devastation caused by Tingting, they said they are ready and proud to help clean up the islands.

"There’s too much damage, and a lot of cleaning is needed. Someone has to do it, and that’s us.... I’m proud to help," said 17-year-old Lagena Rechebei of Saipan Southern High School.

Rechebei and Marlynn Manuel, 16, are two of student interns at the Department of Public Works.

Yesterday, they were seen sweeping the debris caused by uprooted trees, fallen branches and all types of debris brought by the typhoon along Beach Road in Garapan.

Portions of Beach Road remained almost impassable due to mud and other debris by yesterday morning. Small boats ripped apart by the strong sea current stood along the shorelines.

"I felt bad about the typhoon, and I feel sorry for those who lost a lot," said 20-year-old Cody Ralph Iguel of Tanapag.

Tanapag residents Joe Repeki, 49, and his wife, Julie, said they felt scared by the typhoon, "because we were thinking our roof might be blown away by the wind."

As of 1 pm Tuesday, Tingting was located near latitude 19.4 degrees north and longitude 143.3 degrees east.

This was about 160 miles west of Agrihan and 185 miles northwest of Pagan.

Tingting continued to move north-northwest at 9 mph, and is expected to turn more to the north over the next 24 hours.

The Emergency Management Office and the National Weather Service in Guam said the typhoon’s maximum sustained winds went up to 90 mph with gusts to 115 mph, and is "expected to intensify over the next 24 hours."

As this developed, Gov. Babauta said he has requested the Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday for a joint federal-state preliminary damage assessment for Saipan, Tinian, Rota Agrihan and Pagan.

"The purpose...is to verify and estimate the amount of damage incurred and the types of disaster assistance that is needed," Babauta told Karen Armes, acting director of FEMA Region 9, in a one-page letter.

He said a lot of road washouts and water damages were caused by wind-driven rain and enormous rainfall that measured 8.4 inches during Sunday and Monday.

Significant costs were also incurred in mobilizing CNMI government response personnel in Saipan, Tinian and Rota to provide protective measures in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the typhoon, he said.

He said after this joint assessment is done, the CNMI may then ask the federal government for financial and other types of assistance.

Babauta designated Virginia C. Villagomez as the governor’s authorized representative to be the point of contact with FEMA and all federal agencies in coordinating response to this disaster. Ed Tenorio, he said, is the "alternative" representative.

July 1, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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