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Feds, Guam working with CNMI government to provide relief

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Living on Guam, our island people know all too well about surviving a typhoon. "We've gone through typhoons such as this and we're resilient in the part as we're affected as well we're trying to recover at the same time," said Brigadier General Johnny Lizama. "Well, this is what we're trying to do to help Saipan. Yes, they're resilient, but yes, we also have experience that which we can go out and reach out our brothers and sisters in Saipan."    

A State of Major Disaster and Significant Emergency was issued for Saipan earlier this week following Typhoon Soudelor. The typhoon placed around 500 people in to shelters with a preliminary assessment showing 384 homes that were damaged or destroyed.   

According to General Lizama, the Guam Homeland Security Advisor, help is on the way. In fact, FEMA actually had boots on the ground running prior to the typhoon, as he said, "That was one of the reasons why we were sending more assistance because they are going through a surge right now and they're also reaching a point of burnout, so we wanted to make sure they had the expertise on the ground, most especially our personnel from civil defense to help them transition with the federal personnel that are already there and also with local officials."

The Incident Management Assistance Team from FEMA was part of the group that left along with Dee Cruz, the critical infrastructure program manager for Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense, who is serving as a liaison at the CNMI Emergency Operations Center. Public affairs officer Jenna Gaminde also arrived on Saipan today to help set up a Joint Information Center with CNMI media.

During a joint press conference today, CNMI Acting Governor Ralph Torres spoke on the immediate needs of Saipan residents and how Guam can help. Torres said, "I believe at this point, we would like to get as much water supply, dry foods, bed sheets, pillows, just the necessary household necessities, blankets, toilet tissue, baby wipes, something that is our daily usage. Definitely water - we've been experiencing a lot of shortage of water, even the water companies, whatever they're producing is going out the window, and even more so that our vehicles don't have the fuel, they're not able to go out in the community to deliver those water."

According to Stephen DeBlasio, out of the FEMA's Oakland Region IX Office, along with two FAME IMAT teams are in Saipan along with subject matter experts from the federal government on-hand to assist, assess and advise on temporary power, power restoration, environmental and health-related issues and commodities distribution. While they want to restore water by today, for the moment water stations will be situated throughout the community.

"We are bringing ten 125-kilowatt generators from our distribution center in Guam; they are en route now and they should be here no later than Thursday evening or Friday morning," DeBlasio explained. "Those units based upon the assessment that have done, should be able to bring those units back up."

They are coming in through barges by the US Coast Guard. 50 packs of generators from a distribution center in Hawaii are also on its way to Saipan to be used for other critical infrastructure needs and wastewater treatment plans. Officials say 10 staffers from the Guam Power Authority flew in on Tuesday to provide any assistance. Damage to schools is still being addressed and whether the school year will start on time will be addressed at a later time. No casualties meanwhile were reported.

Torres also added, "Thank you and give a personal thank you and Si Yu'os Ma'ase on behalf of Governor [Iloy] Inos and myself and the whole community of the CNMI."

A preliminary assessment pegs the total damage at around $20 million. A letter for a presidential emergency declaration has already been sent.

Meanwhile, despite some rumors, Acting Governor Torres says there is no shortage of fuel, however, there have been long lines of people waiting to get gas, with a limit of $20 each.

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