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By Ulysses Torres Sabuco and Gerardo R. Partido

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 2) – The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas and Guam are eligible to receive millions of dollars in assistance from the United States government to help rehabilitate and repair damaged public and private structures and facilities when typhoon Tingting pummeled the region in June.

President Bush declared on Friday the CNMI and Guam federal disaster areas and announced that both U.S. territories are qualified for both public assistance and hazard mitigation, on top of other federal assistance that were already approved for release.

Guam, however, will not be eligible for assistance from the Federal Emergence Management Agency.

Guam requested for Fema assistance to help rebuild homes and repair properties damaged by Tingting.

Funding for CNMI will be on a "cost-sharing basis." Up to 75 percent of the total losses of CNMI resulting from the June 28-29 typhoon will be shouldered by the U.S. government.

The remaining 25 percent, however, may be waived for certain programs if request is warranted, Bush said in a letter to the CNMI government.

A Fema-CNMI agreement for disaster assistance governing the expenditure of federal funds will be executed this week between Gov. Juan N. Babauta and William Lockey, whom Bush appointed as CNMI’s federal coordinating officer following his disaster declaration.

"I have declared a major disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands due to damage resulting from flooding, high surf, high winds, and wind-driven rain associated with typhoon Tingting. I have authorized federal relief and recovery assistance in the affected area," Bush told Babauta in a letter.

Guam thanks Bush

In Guam, Gov. Felix P. Camacho thanked President Bush for providing federal assistance to help the island recover from damage wrought by typhoon Tingting.

"This shows a commitment to ensuring that our vital community facilities are restored as quickly as possible," Camacho said in a press release.

The declaration makes Guam eligible to apply for a number of federal disaster assistance programs, including hazard mitigation funding.

It also permits GovGuam to work with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in providing assistance to residents adversely affected by Tingting.

Camacho said his administration will use the resources and talents of the community to ensure that Guam is prepared when the next typhoon comes.

According to a statement issued by the Office of the Press Secretary, President Bush ordered federal aid to Guam to supplement territory and local government recovery efforts in areas adversely affected by the high winds, flooding, and mudslides resulting from Tingting.

The typhoon hit Guam last June 26, bringing unprecedented amounts of rain to the island, totaling some 20 inches of rain in just 48 hours.

Moreover, between June 20 and 30, the island recorded 29.4 inches of rain, leaving many areas flooded and impassable.

The typhoon not only caused floods but mud slides as well.

According to the governor, more than 500 people took refuge in government shelters after the typhoon damaged houses, major roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Aside from GovGuam, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations can also get federal assistance on a cost-sharing basis for the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Tingting.

Federal funding will also be made available to Guam on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures.

The damage to Guam caused by Tingting has so far totaled $6 million, according to a joint GovGuam-Fema preliminary damage assessment. Of the $6 million, nearly $4.5 million in damages was documented for public facilities.

Fema, however, denied Guam’s request for individual typhoon assistance.

After natural disasters, Fema usually steps in and offers financial assistance to individuals who lost or suffered damages to homes and other properties.

In the aftermath of Tingting, some $1.5 million in residential and business costs were estimated by GovGuam to be eligible for Fema assistance.

According to preliminary damage assessments, 57 homes suffered major damage or were completely destroyed, while 624 homes experienced minor damages associated with the typhoon.

Separately, the CNMI administration hailed local agencies and other groups for coming up with a comprehensive initial damage assessment report that was submitted to the White House and used as basis for the request of the presidential declaration.

Initially, Saipan, Rota and Tinian suffered destruction of both public and private properties, including farmlands.

"This (disaster declaration) is a very good news. We got a lot of assistance for the damage we (incurred) during the typhoon. Really, we are happy about the Presidential declaration," Acting Gov. Diego T. Benavente told Variety on Sunday.

August 2, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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