In Storm-Ravaged U.S. Pacific Islands, Most Still Without Power

(Bloomberg) -- More than three weeks after Super Typhoon Yutu struck the U.S. Pacific Ocean islands of Saipan and Tinian, at least three-quarters of households there remain without electricity, the federal government said Friday.

Yutu, the strongest storm to strike the U.S. since 1935, hit the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands on Oct. 25 as a Category 5 storm, chewing through the territory of 55,000 people with 180 mile per hour winds.

In Storm-Ravaged U.S. Pacific Islands, Most Still Without Power

On Saipan, the larger of the two islands, 75 percent to 85 percent of households still have no power, according to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. On Tinian, 100 percent of households lack power. About 7,500 of the territory’s 20,000 households have applied for assistance from FEMA. Of those applications, 24 percent, worth $1.7 million, had been approved as of Thursday.

“We are also working with the Commonwealth, helping to implement their temporary emergency tent and roofing installation support program,” FEMA spokeswoman Abbey Dennis said in an email.

The agency is also providing emergency power to critical facilities and working to restore the airport and seaports, she said. The agency has no estimate of how many people were killed or injured, how many homes were damaged or the estimated dollar amount of the damage.

“Restoring critical infrastructure and installing temporary public buildings (e.g., schools), and maintaining multimodal transportation” are also priorities, she said.

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the territory’s non-voting representative in the House of Representatives, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Yutu presents a test for FEMA, which was criticized for its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last fall. That storm left most of the island without power for months, and it took almost a year before electricity was restored across Puerto Rico. FEMA blamed the slow recovery in part on the difficulty of delivering generators and other resources from the U.S. mainland, and pledged to improve its procedures.

The Northern Mariana Islands, which the U.S. seized from Japan near the end of World War II, are almost 6,000 miles west of California, and an eight-hour flight from Hawaii.

FEMA said it has sent 297 staff, along with 1,377 employees from other federal agencies. It has also sent 375,000 meals, half a million liters of water, 10,000 tarps, 5,000 cots and 1,500 blankets.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has installed 78 generators on Saipan, and another 17 generators on Tinian, according to Major Catalina Carrasco, a Corps spokeswoman.

Yutu made landfall two weeks after Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle. It was one of two Category 4 storms to hit the U.S. mainland this year.

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