By Patrick Fuller, IFRC
On March 27th super typhoon Maysak brought widespread destruction to islands across the Federated States of Micronesia, killing five people and leaving thousands displaced from their homes. Chuuk and Yap States bore the brunt of the Typhoon which lashed the Pacific island nation over a six day period. Winds reaching over 200 kph and torrential rains have caused extensive damage to property, infrastructure and agricultural production.
Both Chuuk and Yap are under a state of emergency as efforts to assess the scale of the damage continue. Getting accurate information has been challenging due to power outages, damaged communications systems and the fact that many islands are only accessible by boat.
“Teams from the Micronesia Red Cross are undertaking assessments and delivering emergency relief but it will be days before we know the full extent of damage across all affected islands”, explains Victoria Bannon, IFRC’s representative for the North Pacific region. "We know that in many locations up to 60 to 80 per cent of homes have been damaged, going as high as 90 per cent in some of the more remote locations."
Working with the coastguard, the Red Cross is delivering relief supplies including food, water and emergency shelter materials and other non-food items. Venatus Choay, Chapter Coordinator with the Micronesia Red Cross in Yap explained the scene that his team found on arriving in the Ulithi atoll islands which are home to 900 people and suffered a direct hit from the typhoon.
“At least 60% of the homes were damaged and trees were down everywhere. In a week nothing will be green on the island as the vegetation dies off. People were exposed to the sun all day and we distributed all the tarpaulins we had so they could erect some basic shelter.”
A Red Cross team visiting one island with 100 households, reported that there were only sufficient houses remaining to shelter the children at night, while adults had to sleep out in the open.
Venatus Choay is now awaiting word on the arrival of a government patrol boat coming from Pohnpei Island that will take a team of his volunteers to the remote island of Setawal which lies over 530 miles from Yap.
“We don’t know what kind of boat it will be. If it’s a smaller one it could take us two to three days to reach the island”, he says.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released funds from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to purchase non-food items and emergency shelter kits and is deploying disaster management and logistics specialists to support the operation.
The IFRC’s Tracee Knowler is based in the Micronesia Red Cross headquarters in Palikir. “The main challenge here are the logistics of reaching people across such vast distances with limited options for transportation,” she says. “The disaster preparedness stocks we had are almost exhausted and we’ve bought up pretty much every last tarpaulin and blanket available on the local market. It’s still going to be days before these items reach the people who need them. We have to transport them by air and then sea and everything is dependent on the weather.”