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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 31) — The capital of the Marshall Islands has run out of rice for the third time this year and residents on remote islands are "screaming" for rice deliveries.

Thousands of people lined up at the only grocery store that still had a few bags of rice to sell Thursday but until the end of next week, when the next shipment of rice arrives from Australia, it’s potatoes and bread for this rice-eating nation.

While virtually all Majuro stores ran out of rice earlier in the week, remote outer islands have been flat out of rice for weeks.

The next big delivery of rice is expected in Majuro on Nov. 3.

Local retail officials said they believed that the increasing population in the nation’s capital — which has a population of more than 25,000 — and unexpectedly large bulk orders of rice from some outer island communities wiped out the rice supply in local stores this month.

Payless Majuro, the largest grocery store in the capital, pulled 1,000 20-pound bags of rice off a field trip ship that was preparing to depart for the outer islands and put them out for sale.

Within three hours, all 1,000 were scooped up by hordes of hustling customers who made Payless’ parking lot and store look like Grand Central Station in New York at rush hour.

Dozens of shoppers went away empty handed as the supply of rice ran out quickly.

Local residents waited in line patiently for hours at Payless when word circulated that more rice bags would be put out for sale earlier this week.

"People were pushing and elbowing to grab a bag before they ran out," said local resident Rose Murphy. "It was amazing."

Payless officials, who operate business aboard one of the government ships that travels to remote outer islands, said they had 6,000 bags of rice in place for an outer islands visit scheduled to start earlier this month.

But with ship delays, Payless had already redirected some of the rice from outer islands service to Majuro sales, and company officials on Thursday decided to off-load another 1,000 of the remaining 3,000 bags that were on the vessel awaiting to depart.

Payless’ Manner Iseia said he is being besieged by just about every business in town attempting to buy rice from him.

He said the 2,000 bags left on the ship were also not enough to meet the demand of a full outer islands circuit.

Iseia said he had already pre-sold 1,200 bags of rice to just four business people on the outer islands that the vessel is traveling to.

Ministry of Transportation official Wallace Peter confirmed that the ship would definitely leave to the outer islands this week, despite the rice shortfall.

Peter said people on the outer islands were "screaming" for a delivery of rice.

He said there is no rice on the outer islands, and added that in Majuro, people have alternatives to rice such as potatoes, bread and so forth.

The government’s V7AB radio station reported earlier this week that this is the third time this year that Majuro stores have run out of rice.

The Chief Container Service vessel that delivers most rice to Majuro is scheduled to arrive next week Thursday, two days behind schedule.

The Chief brings in mainly Australian rice. Smaller shipments of American rice are expected to arrive via Matson from Hawaii on Nov. 15.

Payless manager Maria Lorennij said that the company keeps increasing its rice imports. But this still hasn’t kept pace with the skyrocketing demand.

Payless is bringing in three containers of rice next week — or more than 10,000 20-pound bags.

Iseia said they continue increasing the orders with each shipment. "We’ve adjusted our ordering (upward), but it still hasn’t been enough," he said.

October 31, 2005

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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