Micronesia: U.S. President Bush authorizes Chuuk aid

News and Press Release
Originally published
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 (July 16, 2002 -- Pacific Daily News)---A Federal Emergency Management Agency team arrived in Chuuk yesterday and transported four critically injured landslide victims to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawai'i.

The FEMA team is now able to assist fully with relief efforts in Chuuk after President Bush authorized aid for Chuuk under a major disaster declaration made late last week.

The islands of Chuuk, which are located 620 miles southeast of Guam, were devastated by more than 30 landslides July 2, when then-Tropical Storm Chata'an pounded the islands with torrential rain. The death toll remains steady at 47, according to Chuuk officials, but that number may rise because many people are missing.

Bush made the declaration a day after FEMA officials reviewed Federated States of Micronesia President Leo Falcam's July 11 disaster declaration and request for assistance from the U.S. government, a FEMA press release said.

Dozens of injured people are in the care of Chuuk State Hospital. Hundreds of people were left homeless and are crammed into classrooms, churches and government buildings that have been converted to emergency shelters.

Tripler Army Medical Center also has sent a team of surgeons to assist Chuuk State Hospital, said Nachsa Siren, director of Chuuk's Department of Health.

"It's really going very well. They came with nurses and they started right when they arrived," Siren said. "It is really a great relief. Our guys have been working night and day. It's really going smoothly now."

Medical supplies and medicines, mostly antibiotics, also arrived yesterday courtesy of the Guam-based Ayuda Foundation, which first responded to the disaster with a volunteer medical team, Siren said.

"Thank you all in Guam. You really supported us and we appreciate the support," Siren said.

Ayuda, a humanitarian relief organization, is coordinating more volunteer medical missions to Chuuk's outer islands, to treat victims who have yet to receive care, said foundation Co-Executive Director Carlotta Leon Guerrero, a former Guam senator.

Teams of Guam doctors and nurses might leave as early as July 24 and travel to the outer islands on two ships that will be used as floating hospitals, Leon Guerrero said. Those trips could last as long as 10 days. Members of the Guam Medical Society have committed to the medical missions.

Continental Micronesia, which helped to establish Ayuda, has given seats to volunteer medical professionals and has helped ship critically needed medicine and supplies to Chuuk for free.

Guam medical personnel will be joined by a team from Palau, which is sending two doctors and two nurses to assist with the relief effort, Leon Guerrero said.

"Now the wheels are turning and more help will come to Chuuk," she said.

A lack of proper paperwork initially delayed U.S. assistance to Chuuk by more than a week.

FSM President Falcam had sent a disaster declaration to President Bush on July 5 -- two days after Chuuk Gov. Ansito Walter made his disaster declaration, said Lynn Narruhn, FSM government spokeswoman.

The U.S. government didn't receive a declaration until early last week and that request was inadequate, said Bill Sanders, FEMA information and planning chief.

Falcam submitted a revised declaration to Bush July 11.

Under Bush's order, Chuuk is eligible for federal funding to pay 75 percent of the cost of debris removal and emergency services, said FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh. The funding also covers the cost of emergency work undertaken by the federal government at the request of Chuuk State and its municipal governments.

Allbaugh said federal funds will be available for Micronesia on a cost-shared basis for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks. He indicated other areas and additional forms of assistance may be designated later, based on the results of ongoing damage assessments.

William L. Carwile III of FEMA was named by Allbaugh to coordinate federal recovery operations in Guam and Chuuk.