Tropical storm ravages Micronesia

Published: 10 July 2002 0:00 CET

Floods and mudslides following tropical storm Chataan on 1 July, have ravaged the Chuuk lagoon island of Micronesia. Continuous rainfall and thunderstorms were accompanied by floods, high surfs, sea water intrusions and landslides eroding hillsides up to 300 metres.

Reports from Red Cross assessment teams estimate that 48 people have died and 73 have been hospitalized with injuries. Three hundred houses have been destroyed completely and 2,000 people are now homeless.

Worst hit was the town of Weno, Chuuk's business and administrative centre, which experienced a first mudslide in the early afternoon of 2 July, followed by at least 10 more the same day.

"People were inside their houses because of the pouring rain," explains Sizue Yoma, executive director of the Micronesia Red Cross. "They were all caught by surprise and many were buried alive. This is a horrible disaster."

About 100 Red Cross volunteers were mobilized to help people dig out. "People are shovelling with whatever they have, since there is no heavy machinery available," says Yoma. "But it's unlikely now that those reported missing are still alive."

"So far, most deaths are from the village of Nechap on Tonoasa Island," says Wilfred Robert, Red Cross branch chairman. "The weather remains hostile and this is hampering our efforts. It is likely that the numbers of victims could rise as the assessment progresses."

People rendered homeless by the disaster are mostly living with relatives, friends or neighbours. "About 300 families are homeless," says Esikeil Lippwe, field officer of the Red Cross in Chuuk. "We will soon begin providing 100 sets of tools to these people to begin rebuilding their homes."

Water from the rain rose to 1 metre inside some homes and businesses taking some days to recede. Dead animals and rubbish were strewn everywhere. With no drainage system in Weno and with the sewage systems backing up, authorities fear an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Clean drinking water is in short supply and people are resorting to collecting water from rain catchments even though health officials have been advising people to use only bottled water. The Micronesia Red Cross plans to distribute 500 cases of bottled water provided by the American Red Cross in neighbouring Saipan.

Red Cross relief supplies were quickly mobilized including tarpaulins, blankets, raincoats, water containers, candles and tools and rushed to Weno. However, the distribution of relief outside Weno is proving difficult due to rough sea conditions prevailing in the region.

Micronesia Red Cross is also distributing food, clothes and candles received from local communities and business groups. Besides other Red Cross societies, offers of help have also come from the governments of Australia, Japan and US.

Micronesia Red Cross is participating in the assessment of damages and needs with government authorities. Douglas Clarke, International Federation health delegate in Chuuk is currently carrying out an assessment of the situation. He warns that food shortages could effect the recovery of the population unless transportation becomes available soon. This will depend on the weather in the region in the coming days.

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04 July 2002 - Hundreds feared dead in Micronesia mudslides