Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pinoys in Saipan open hearts, wallets to typhoon victims

Although victims of a destructive typhoon themselves, many Filipinos and other residents in the US island of Saipan have been opening their hearts and wallets to others who lost so much more to Typhoon Soudelor.  

Weeks after the typhoon, many are still in dire need of food, drinking water and other relief supplies while rebuilding their damaged houses.

“Saipan will recover soon with all the bayanihan going on among our kababayans,” Annamae Adaza, a typhoon relief volunteer and former president of the umbrella organization of all Filipino groups on Saipan, told GMA News Online on Tuesday.

Her concrete house took a beating from Soudelor’s destructive winds and torrential rains when it pummeled Saipan on August 2 and 3, but not as worse as those received by hundreds of other houses on the island.

“Our living room was flooded and an air-conditioner in my son’s room came crashing down.  Thankfully we’re all in the living room, or my son would have been hit by the fallen air-con,” Adaza, a mother of three, said.

She said despite what she calls a minor damage to the house, she’s thankful that her family is safe.  She has since devoted her time helping others who felt the brunt of Soudelor’s fury while at the same time taking care of her children and working as a sales manager for a wholesale company in Saipan.

“My kids are supportive when it comes to my community services and as a single parent, they make my life more easy with their support,” said Adaza, who turned 45 on Tuesday.

Adaza is just one of the many Filipinos on Saipan who have been donating, pooling together resources and distributing relief goods — from drinking water to bags of rice, towels, toiletries and clothing — to hundreds of families that Soudelor left homeless, with damaged dwellings, or with nothing left to eat.

Many of the donations also came from civic groups with Filipino and Filipino-American members, such as Lions Club International chapters based in Guam, another US territory located some 40 minutes away by plane from Saipan.

Saipan is home to some10,000 overseas Filipino workers and Filipino-Americans.  It is the capital of the 14-island chain called the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in the Western Pacific.

Almost a month since Soudelor directly hit Saipan, hundreds of Filipinos and other residents are still either in emergency shelters or staying with their friends living in sturdier houses. Thousands more remain without power and running water. Some Filipinos have yet to go back to work as their place of work was also wrecked.

“All of us are affected one way or another [by the typhoon], but still we stay strong and continue serving the Lord. Just stay positive.  Sabi nga, in every calamity or disaster, there's always an opportunity.  Huwag lang magsamantala,” said Adaza, who hails from Dipolog City in Mindanao.

White House response

Soudelor’s destruction was so massive that on August 5 (August 6, Saipan and Manila time), US President Barack Obama had to declare Saipan, along with the rest of CNMI, a federal disaster area to be able to free up federal resources for relief and recovery efforts.  

Some three weeks later, Obama announced that the US government will lower the CNMI share of costs for Typhoon Soudelor’s recovery from 25 percent to 10 percent.

This means the US federal government shoulders 90 percent of the recovery costs, while the CNMI government gets to shoulder only 10 percent.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) makes the recommendation to the president to adjust the local share, when costs go above $136 per person.  

With 53,000 people in the CNMI, that threshold was $7.2 million.

As of Monday, FEMA said the obligations had already reached $14.7 million.

Over 7,200 people on Saipan have so far applied for US federal assistance, among them Filipinos working and living on the island.

Despite flattening neighborhoods, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of property and halting airport, seaport, power and water services, Soudelor didn’t result in any deaths on Saipan but only a few minor injuries.

Soudelor became a super typhoon after leaving Saipan’s area of responsibility.  It was tagged as the strongest storm on earth this year so far.  It later ripped through Taiwan and China, claiming lives and injuring many.

Volunteerism

Leaders of the Filipino community in Saipan are helping to coordinate typhoon relief goods collection and distribution.  Adaza, for example, works closely with Philippine honorary consul to the CNMI, Eli Arago, the Philippine Consulate General in Guam and the United Filipino Organization in Saipan.

Initially, Arago, Adaza and other members of the United Filipino Organization pooled together their dollars and other resources to be able to buy and distribute at least bags of rice to some Filipinos in dire need of help.

But those relief goods were not enough for the island’s massive need for food and drinking water, among other things.

The group also sought the help of Filipino-American donors, including Regie Kautz and Andrea Sablan, the wife of the CNMI’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP).

Adaza herself went house to house, and even to emergency shelters, to deliver donated rice and other relief goods.

“I feel so sorry for the victims because a lot of them lost their houses. When we visited shelters and saw their condition, I really felt that I am so lucky.  Most Pinoys, they don't like to stay at shelters; they’d rather stay at friends’ house or try to fix their damaged house after the typhoon,” said Adaza.

The Filipinos are just a fraction of the grassroots movement comprised of individuals of different nationalities, races and immigration status helping one another in the typhoon-ravaged Saipan.

Patiently falling in line

With the outpouring of donations from within and outside the CNMI such as Guam, Hawaii, California, Washington, D.C. and other US states and other countries, people have to line up for many of the relief goods being made available to as many residents as possible regardless of nationality and race.

For many Filipinos, falling in line – even for several hours – in return for coming home with bags of relief supplies or vouchers for food is much better than sitting at home expecting miracle.

“With the help of different agencies here, it seems like no one will have to get hungry so long as they are patient to wait in line,” Adaza said.  

Ladyvir Canape, who hails from Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, helped coordinate the collection and distribution of some $24,000 worth of typhoon relief goods from the CNMI and Guam through the Lions Club International Foundation and its other districts the past weeks.

On Saturday alone, Canape and her fellow Lions Club members and volunteers were able to distribute relief goods to over 1,000 typhoon victims who patiently waited in line.

“We gave out 500 coupons at first; one coupon per family.  Then after the distribution of goods for families with those coupons, we also gave out to the rest of those who lined up and waited to see whether there’s still some for them.  God is good that He didn’t allow anyone who stayed with us go home empty-handed,” Canape, an operations manager at a Saipan business and a Lions Club Region 2 chairperson, told GMA News Online on Tuesday.

Some people lined up as early as 1 a.m. Saturday, way ahead of the scheduled 10 a.m. relief distribution. Officials of the four Lions Club chapters on Saipan decided to start the distribution at 8am, two hours earlier than the initial schedule.

Those who lined up went home with rice, bottled drinking water, cup noodles, luncheon meat, canned tuna, crackers, baby wipes, diapers, toilet tissue, flashlights loaded with batteries, 5-gallon water containers, gums, used towels and blankets and used clothing.

Both Canape and Adaza said their groups will distribute more relief goods when they collect more cash and in-kind donations from individuals, groups, businesses and other entities within and outside the CNMI.

People also lined up for American Red Cross assistance, and some relief supplies distributed with the help of US military personnel.  The US military was among the first ones to come to Saipan’s aid in the wake of the typhoon.

More typhoons

Saipan, along with the rest of the CNMI, is currently in the middle of a strong El NiƱo weather pattern, the Guam office of the National Weather Service says.

This means there is an increased risk of typhoons this year in the Marianas, which includes the CNMI and Guam where.  

Historically, October and November are when most typhoons have passed over or near the CNMI and Guam.

Yet in August alone, three typhoons have already made their unwelcome presence felt in the CNMI, including Typhoon Soudelor, Tropical Storm Goni and Typhoon Atsani.

Bong Malasarte, president of the United Filipino Organization in Saipan, called on his compatriots to always be prepared for emergencies such as typhoons.

Simple steps such as preparing one’s emergency kits including having flashlights and batteries along with drinking water and food, he said, will go a long way in helping families during typhoons.

Assessment team sent

Meanwhile, the Philippine government last week sent to Saipan a team from the Department of Foreign Affairs to check on the conditions of Filipinos living and working on the island, especially those affected by Typhoon Soudelor.  

But the team, headed by Tanya Faye O. Ramiro from the Office of the Undersecretary of Migrant Workers Affairs, didn’t distribute relief supplies to typhoon victims.

They made a courtesy call on CNMI Governor Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Ralph Torres on Friday.

The team left on Sunday for Palau also to check on Filipinos’ working and living conditions there. —KBK, GMA News 

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