Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Typhoon Relief in Saipan - Up Close and Personal

Written by: Reed Mszar, intern

On August 2, Typhoon Soudelor made landfall in the United States territory of Saipan, located approximately 120 miles north of its sister island, Guam. No more than a week and a half later, the island of around 50,000 people faced yet another serious disaster - Tropical Storm Goni. These two dreadful storms, not only left a great deal of damage and destruction to the infrastructure on the island, but they also took an emotional toll on all of its residents. The following is a summarized account from Dawn Tritch, an American Red Cross volunteer who is currently at the front lines helping those in desperate need.

“At the American Red Cross, I volunteer for eight hours each day, from about noon to 8 p.m. or whenever the day finally ends. As one of eight mental health workers, I am responsible for the mental health and sanity of about 30 case managers, the staff that support[s] them, and a call center of 20 workers at another location 20 minutes away. I am also responsible for answering people's questions and making appointments for the case managers, and basic crowd management - diffusing angry people in line and trying to sort their squabbles out before a riot breaks out. We have had about 2,000 people showing up in lines each day, in fierce heat, with little to no shade, water, or food (the tempers are ugly). It takes very little to spark arguments and fights. The police have been assisting us fortunately or it [the crowds] would be uncontrollable, nevertheless, sometimes a mental-health approach is more calming that the brute-force of the police. So that is my role, working the line, sorting things out, getting medical help when people pass out, and listening to burn-out with the case workers (30 to 2,000 is just impossible),.

We have been told that it is a minimum of six months before we will get power (because all the island generators were destroyed, as well as most of the lines). We were able to locate a small generator, one that would have been about $450 in the states, but was over $2,000 here, so we have a bit of power each evening, but it is not much and it is expensive to run as gas is over $5 per gallon. In addition, because there is no power, there is also little to no water except when it rains. Since households are limited to five gallons of drinking water and ten gallons of non-drinking water for everything else per day (laundry, bathing, sanitation, cooking, cleaning, etc), one must drive to one of the military posts to get it - a real challenge for the many who don't have cars or other means of transportation.

Food is coming to the island, but is still limited and prices continue to rise. Internet and cell reception are very sporadic and often non-existent. There is no TV except the local station, but that is also sporadic. Gas is limited to ten gallons per household per day, and lines can be exceedingly (hours) long. A reliable gas source is much needed here. Also, ice is quite the luxury as there are only 1600 five-pound bags available on the island each day, all for 50,000 residents and businesses (which means there is usually not enough for the Red Cross). It is for this reason that each night I collect all the hand-sized towels, take them home and wash them. Then, I roll them up and put them in the freezer, still wet, so they freeze while our generator is running.  I later take them to the Red Cross and hand them out to the volunteers to stay cool. It does seem to help since there is little to no air conditioning or air circulation in the bunker [where] we are working out of. Laundry is a challenge for our little generator. So much of our clothes were muddy either from the mildew as a result of the standing water from the storm or the lack of necessary air-circulation units. Last, but not least, the mosquitos are vicious and there is no bug spray to be found anywhere on the island.”

We at the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region would like to thank Dawn and the numerous other Red Cross volunteers in Saipan and around the world for the selfless work you do helping to alleviate human suffering, even in the most dangerous environments. You all truly embody the mission of the Red Cross and we could not be more proud of all your hard work providing relief to thousands of people. If you too would like to make a difference and support our efforts, you can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small.

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