American Red Cross Health Services volunteer, Pat Burch of Norwalk, Iowa, recently returned from three weeks in Saipan. Pat wrote this summary of her experience serving in Saipan:
The island of Saipan is located in the South pacific near Guam. Saipan is a U.S. Commonwealth, which has a similar relationship that our U.S. Territories have with us. Typhoon Soudelar hit the island on August 3, 2015, causing major damage including property damage, loss of power to the entire island and loss of their water system.
I arrived on the island on August 11 to assist in providing healthcare to the island residents and Red Cross staff. We had a total of seven Health Services staff including RNs, paramedics and EMT’s from across the U.S.
The Red Cross offices/distribution center was located near the Saipan airport in thick concrete buildings constructed by the Japanese prior to WW II when they occupied the island. Visible proof of the occupation and WWII Battle of Saipan are evident around the island including old bunkers, tanks, guns and even mortar hits on the side of the Red Cross buildings.
The people of Saipan are showing their strength during this disaster. They have stood in line many days awaiting their turn for client case work and bulk distribution. The lines were so long, (2,000 at one point) the Red Cross implemented a mainland call center to schedule appointments for specific days and times. With the average temperature between 85-90 degrees with at least 90% humidity, it was not safe for clients to stand in the heat for several days until they could be seen. This system worked better but, there were still some issues with the call center functionality. Nevertheless, the patience of the clients rose above it.
Another hindrance to providing aid was the fact we were dependent upon getting Red Cross supplies to the island by ships from Guam. One never knew what was going to become available for distribution until the ship arrived!
When I left the island on August 30th, power continued to be only with generators. New concrete power poles were being sent to the island from the mainland and were being installed. Water was still bottled for drinking and rain water for non-drinking purposes.
Some client homes had generators, but most run them for limited periods since gasoline is over four dollars a gallon. Power is expected to be restored within the second month and with it the water system.
The people of Saipan are the most gracious, sincere and patient persons I have ever met. Imagine us mainlanders living without power, air conditioning, water supply, street lights and traffic signals for up to two months without looting, rioting or road rage! After this experience, if you have not created your emergency supplies and plan per the suggested list from the Red Cross, I encourage you to do so sooner than later!