Micronesia: No FEMA aid to Chuuk outer islands

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

By Scott Radway

HAG=C5TÑA, Guam (August 2, 2002 -- Pacific Daily News)---The Federal Emergency Management Agency will not send aid to the outer islands of Chuuk state because assessments do not show those areas were severely affected by then-Tropical Storm Chata'an.

Bob Fenton, FEMA operations chief for Guam and Chuuk, said the agency can respond only to storm-related disaster. He noted the outer islands of Chuuk have ongoing problems that were not severely worsened by the storm.

The central lagoon islands of Chuuk were hammered July 2 by heavy rains that triggered mass mudslides, killing 47 people, injuring dozens and leaving more than a thousand homeless. Chuuk state is part of the Federated States of Micronesia and has a population of 47,000.

Fenton said FEMA's aid to the lagoon islands has been intense, but surveys of the outer islands -- all atolls that did not have mudslides -- showed food stocks were not severely damaged, nor were there life-threatening injuries.

The agency can only return an area to the condition it was in before a disaster, he added.

But Carlotta Leon Guerrero, co-executive director for the Ayuda Foundation, which has spearheaded relief to Chuuk, said FEMA officials are mistaken.

Leon Guerrero said outer islanders, who are subsistence farmers and fishermen, lost all of their crops and medicine and are in desperate need of both food and medicine. Outer-island officials gave similar reports last month over a radio network run by the University of Guam.

FEMA officials "don't understand," said Leon Guerrero.

"I don't think they have a sense of what it is like to be 18 hours away from a place by ship and your food crop is gone," she said.

There was discussion of FEMA sending medical supplies to the outer islands, but Fenton said FEMA will send only medical supplies -- if asked to do so by the FSM government -- to the central islands. Those supplies would return the island to the state it was in before mudslides destroyed all of its medicine stocks, he added.

In the meantime, the Ayuda Foundation is gathering tons of medicine for the outer islands.

The biggest donation is coming from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, a group referred to as the Red Cross of Taiwan, which is giving four tons of medicine to the effort. Leon Guerrero said those supplies should arrive on Guam in the next week and a half.

"They are also sending a team of doctors, and a video crew from (Los Angeles) to document the trip," she said.

Med-Share International, based in Georgia, will send a 40-foot container of medical equipment, Leon Guerrero said. That foundation is trying to gain use of military planes to transport that shipment.

Ayuda also is trying to use military planes to move about two tons of medical supplies from Heart to Heart International in Kansas.

Leon Guerrero added that a large quantity of medical supplies is being purchased from Superdrug's parent company in California at a substantially reduced price.