As reports slowly trickle in from the Micronesian State of Chuuk, ravaged by several mudslides on Tuesday July 2, authorities fear the death toll may reach the hundreds. According to the Chuuk chapter of the Micronesia Red Cross Society (MRCS), the unofficial death count has reached 50 and continues to rise. Some 70 people have been injured, at least 1,500 homes destroyed and thousands of people are homeless.
Worst hit was the town of Weno, Chuuk's business and administrative centre, which experienced a first mudslide at 14:00 on Tuesday, followed by at least ten others the same afternoon. "People were inside their houses because of the pouring rain", explains Suzie Yoma, Executive Director of the Micronesia Red Cross. "They were all caught by surprise and were basically buried alive. This is a horrible disaster."
About 100 Red Cross volunteers have been mobilized to help people dig out. "People are shoveling with whatever they have, since there is no heavy machinery available", says Ms. Yoma. "But it's unlikely now that those reported missing are still alive." A Red Cross container of relief goods (including tarpaulins, blankets, raincoats, water containers, candles and tools) is on its way from the capital, Pohnpei, to Weno.
Other landslides have occurred in the lagoon and outer islands, but, with power lines down because of the flooding and some lightning strikes, information is only trickling in. The lagoon islands are only accessible by boat.
The landslides were triggered by exceptionally heavy rains (nearly 51 centimetres fell within four hours on July 2 - more than Chuuk's average monthly rainfall) which accompanied Tropical storm Chataan. The rain and winds have let up but the water has not yet receded. Water rose to one metre inside homes and businesses. Dead animals and rubbish are strewn everywhere and potable water has become scarce. There is no drainage system in Weno, and the sewer system has backed up, sparking fears of an outbreak of water-borne diseases.
The MRCS is participating in the assessment of damages and needs with government authorities. The International Federation is closely monitoring the situation from its Regional delegation in Suva, Fiji and is ready to send in assistance as soon as more detailed information is available.
Chuuk (pop 54,000) is one of four island states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia (pop 108,000).