Tourists flee typhoon-ravaged Northern Marianas
A super typhoon that ravaged a Pacific U.S. territory sent tourists fleeing and postponed elections as residents struggled with a power outage, destroyed homes and long lines for gasoline.
U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres said on his office’s Facebook page that elections will be postponed until Nov. 13. Early voting will now begin Nov. 6.
The delay won’t affect a balance of power in Congress since the islands only have one non-voting member. In addition to the delegate to Congress, residents will vote on governor and other local races.
Tropical weather has affected other elections in the past. Some results in the 2014 Hawaii primary were delayed nearly a week as residents in two rural districts on the Big Island couldn’t vote on election day because of damage from Hurricane Iselle. A make-up primary for about 8,000 of those residents was held six days later.
Torres and his lieutenant governor running mate will suspend campaign events to focus on recovery, he wrote on Facebook.
“Exercising your right to vote is an important part of our democracy and our freedom,” he said. “Taking care of yourself and your family is even more important.”
At category 5, Super Typhoon Yutu was the strongest storm to hit any part of the U.S. this year.
Saipan, the largest island, is a popular tourist destination for travelers from South Korea and China. There were 3,200 tourists when Yutu hit, said governor spokesman Kevin Bautista.
The South Korean government flew most of their nationals out on military planes over the weekend, he said, and other tourists have been flying home now that commercial flights have resumed out of the Saipan airport.
The American Red Cross and other volunteers have been giving out meals and water for drinking. There are water stations where each vehicle can receive up to 50 gallons (190 liters) of non-potable water for needs such as bathing. Medical teams were sent to shelters to provide services.
Nearby territory Guam has sent 140 members of its National Guard to help with recovery efforts, according to Torres’ office Facebook page.
“There were so many people in line and some were unable to get anything or only able to get very little,” Edwin Propst, a member of the House of Representatives, said Tuesday.
Yet, he’s confident the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is doing its best to help. “They have shown they do care. So we are grateful for whatever they can give,” he said.
President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration, making federal funding available to affected people in the Northern Marianas.
Most of the homes on the island of Tinian were destroyed by a direct hit from Yutu, residents said. According to initial assessments, there were 183 homes on Tinian that were destroyed or suffered major damage. On Saipan, that number was 779. Bautista didn’t have estimates for how many homes are on each island. Rota suffered the least amount of damage with 51 badly damaged or destroyed homes, but like Saipan and Tinian, Rota was still without power.
On Saipan there were 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) gas lines and it could take three months to restore 50 percent power to Tinian, according to the territory’s recovery assessment released Monday.
Over 96 hours after the storm, there were 121 typhoon-related emergency room visits, the assessment said. There was one storm-related death: a woman who took shelter in an abandoned building that collapsed.
“I look to this as a miracle in some respects,” Propst, the lawmaker, said of there not being more casualties. “We are a predominantly Catholic community. I just think we were graced by God. For so many people that I talked to that were in these structures that were totally destroyed and to come out with only minor bruises and cut is in itself a miracle.”
The territory has building codes meant to withstand typhoon winds, but many poor families can’t afford to build full concrete structures, Propst said: “Most of our families live in a mix of wood and tin and semi-concrete structures.”
Officials say Typhoon Yutu slammed into Dinapigue town in northeastern Isabela province before dawn Tuesday with sustained winds of 93 mph (150 kph) and gusts of up to 130 mph (210 kph). It knocked down trees and power posts and ripped roofs off small houses, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
AP journalists Caleb Jones and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this report.