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FSM President Falcam recounts Chuuk destruction, visits Guam to meet with FEMA

Date de publication

From Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i

By David V. Crisostomo

HAG=C5TÑA, Guam (August 5, 2002 - Pacific Daily News)---It will take at least six more months before landslide-ravaged Chuuk State can recover from structural and agricultural devastation, said Federated States of Micronesia President Leo Falcam.

But the grieving process over the massive loss of life in Chuuk will take much longer, said Falcam, who visited Guam yesterday.

"People in Chuuk are still in shock. It will linger on for a long time," Falcam said.

Torrential rain from then-Tropical Storm Chata'an pounded Chuuk State July 2 and triggered more than 30 massive landslides throughout the state. The death toll remains at 47. The disaster injured hundreds of people and destroyed hundreds of homes. About 1,000 people have been displaced by the deadliest disaster in the state's history.

Falcam visited Guam to meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, who are providing assistance to Chuuk. Falcam was coming home from a summit in Palau, and is expected to return to Pohnpei today.

During his meeting with FEMA officials, Falcam completed all the necessary paperwork so the agency could assist Chuuk, said Bill Carwile, FEMA federal coordinating officer. The FSM government has a Compact of Free Association agreement with the U.S. government that allows the sovereign Pacific island nation to request disaster assistance from the United States.

Carwile said FEMA officials have established a disaster recovery center in Weno, the main island in Chuuk Lagoon, to process assistance applications.

Recovery efforts in Chuuk have presented logistical challenges, Carwile said.

"People here on Guam can call a 1-800 number to call FEMA. They don't have that setup in Chuuk," he said. "We've set up our own fleet of boats, our own little navy, to reach the people in Chuuk's islands."

Carwile said recovery efforts in Chuuk will continue until all those in need of assistance are helped.

The federal agency has coordinated 14 medically related missions to Chuuk, using C-130 military aircraft. Critically injured patients were transported to medical facilities in Hawai'i, Guam and Japan, with each accompanied by a family member, according to FEMA officials.

The agency also has coordinated transport of food, water and medical supplies from Guam to Chuuk. According to FEMA, an initial 21-day relief package of rice, flour and oil was delivered via military aircraft and a total of 24 military airlifts of food, water, medical supplies and other aid were delivered to Chuuk.

"FEMA people on the ground are doing exceptionally well," Falcam said.

Falcam said the Chuuk State and FSM governments do not have the resources to cope with the disaster.

"Chuuk alone, or FSM alone -- impossible. The magnitude of the disaster was so great, we needed help from the outside," he said.

'Thank you'

Falcam estimates the cost of damage to both public and private property at more than $10 million.

Falcam said a pre-existing food shortage in Chuuk State, aggravated by the landslides, will have to be addressed in the long-term by the state and national governments. He said relief aid provided by other countries and neighboring islands, including Guam, is playing a key role in stemming the ongoing food problems.

Falcam said he wants to thank the U.S. government and Guam aid organizations and residents for helping Chuuk recover.

"This is a great humanitarian effort," Falcam said. "I can say nothing more important than to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts, particularly to Guam."

Guam sent the first response team to Chuuk via Ayuda Foundation's volunteer team of doctors and other medical professionals, who helped treat those most critically injured.

Ayuda, a local nonprofit group, has also been sending critically needed medicine and other relief supplies, including IV fluids, antibiotics and painkillers, to Chuuk through free cargo services provided by Continental Micronesia.

"I think it's been unbelievable. People in Chuuk will remember this for a long time," Falcam said.

Ayuda Co-Executive Director Carlotta Leon Guerrero said the group is finalizing plans to send more volunteer doctors and other medical professionals to Chuuk's outer islands. Ayuda is working with Chuuk's government to outfit two ships to serve as floating hospitals to treat those injured in the outer islands.

Falcam said many lessons were learned from the disaster.

"I think most importantly, it has given us a lesson on how we need to build residences away from dangerous areas," he said.

"We need to rethink how we build and where we build our homes."