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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Trump OKs major disaster declaration for CNMI

President Trump on Saturday approved a major disaster declaration for the Northern Mariana Islands in the wake of Super Typhoon Yutu, which ripped through these islands early Thursday morning, wreaking havoc and leaving one dead and 133 injured.

The presidential disaster declaration paves the way for the expedited release of federal funding assistance for residents on Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Northern Islands who were affected by Yutu.

“I received a call this morning from the White House that President Trump has approved our request for a major disaster declaration,” CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres said. “This means that accelerated federal assistance for disaster assistance, technical assistance, and public health and safety will continue to be provided.”

Carrying winds with a strength of 160 mph, Yutu -- determined by the National Weather Service as the strongest storm to hit the U.S. soil -- tore several homes apart and knocked down powerlines on Saipan and Tinian.

Barely recovering from Typhoon Manghkut, which hit the Marianas in September, CNMI residents once again found themselves in a dire predicament reminiscent of Soudelor, which shattered Saipan in 2015.

Residents stand in a long line to purchase gasoline. Power is still out in most parts of the island and water is being rationed. The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. on Saturday provided a two-hour emergency service at water filling station in Marpi, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The water distribution is limited to 50 gallons per vehicle.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, the CNMI government, FEMA and the Red Cross will be distributing food and water throughout Saipan at five distribution sites — Kagman Fire Station, San Roque Fire Station, Koblerville Fire Station, American Memorial Park and Ada Gymnasium.

CNMI Gov Ralph Torres

Public assistance, individual assistance and hazard mitigation financial aid will be made available once disaster assistance sites are established. Federal aid will be available for CNMI residents who sustained property damage as a result of Yutu, according to CNMI officials and Federal Emergency Management representatives.

The CNMI governor’s office said the local government “will continue to prioritize every person and family impacted by the storm through the coordination of distribution of relief goods, temporary shelter resources, and through partnership with federal and private sector partners on assistance.”

The Small Business Administration also announced the availability of low-interest federal disaster loans for affected businesses and residents.

Interest rates can be as low as 3.675 percent for businesses, 2.5 percent for private nonprofit organizations and 2 percent for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years. Loan amounts and terms are set by SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition. As soon as Federal-State Disaster Recovery Centers open throughout the affected area, SBA will provide one-on-one assistance to disaster loan applicants.

As is prepares for recovery, the CNMI begins receiving relief assistance. Matson has pledged $125,000 in in-kind and cash support to help with emergency relief efforts.

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“Our hearts are with the residents of Saipan and Tinian as they begin to rebuild after the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yutu,” said Matt Cox, chairman and CEO of Matson today. “We are committed to helping with recovery efforts in the way we know best—by getting much needed supplies, equipment and donations to Saipan as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The US Coast Guard’s Sequoia (WLB-215) departed Guam and headed toward Saipan while U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kiska (WPB 1336) headed for Tinian to deliver the relief supplies.

Meanwhile, Saipan International Airport remained closed as of Saturday, prompting United Airlines to cancel all flights between Guam and Saipan. United said flights will resume when the Saipan airport reopens.

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