SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands -- The western North Pacific has historically been one of the most active tropical cyclone areas in the world. Year after year, tropical storms devastate the many islands in the Pacific. In early August, Typhoon Soudelor, the most powerful storm of the year, rocked across the Pacific before finally blowing itself out over China. The first place the typhoon hit was the small island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, Aug. 2-3.
Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group were conducting training in the vicinity of the Mariana Islands at the time the typhoon hit. Within two days, they had been redirected to Saipan to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as other local and federal agencies, with the typhoon relief efforts.
U.S. Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st MEU and Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, arrived Aug. 7, and immediately set to work distributing emergency relief supplies.
“Working with the Marines was great,” said Marvin K. Seman, Saipan’s Special Assistant for Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “It was all about efficiency and accomplishing the task. It is a lot better today as a result. We are getting to a point where the response is now turning to recovery. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
With potable water being in short supply, and the primary need of the people of Saipan, the Marines and sailors began to immediately distribute water purified aboard the Ashland. Within days, they were able to set up their own purification equipment ashore and ramp up water production and distribution.
“We established our Light Weight Water Purification system and our Tactical Water Purification System, and after we had enough water accumulated, we started pushing water out to three different distribution points with 3,000 gallon bladders,” said Maj. Joseph Montedoro, the executive officer for CLB 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, and the officer in charge of the 31st MEU’s Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team.
As of Aug. 20, the Marines had distributed more than 285,700 gallons of potable water, 215,075 gallons of which were purified by the Marines, according to Montedoro, a native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey. The 31st MEU has also delivered more than 19,000 gallons of water and 47,000 individual meals provided by FEMA, and distributed 10,000 pounds of emergency supplies provided by the Red Cross.
Although the days have been long and full of hard labor, the Marines continue to aid the locals in any way possible.
“We have provided water to at least 600 people (at one site) in the past few days,” said Sgt. Theron Nez, a water technician with CLB 31, 31st MEU. “It just makes me happy to see all of their smiling faces and to hear them say how much they appreciate our help.”
The Marines, alongside FEMA, have done what they can to help the locals recover from the damage the typhoon caused, and are continuing their mission to aid the people of Saipan during their time of need.
“Our mission when we came to shore was to produce and distribute water. Debris clearance became a secondary mission and I would say we have completed both of those tasks,” said Montedoro. “The conditions in which the Marines are working in are extremely hot during the day, but the Marines are out there every day busting their humps to help the local community in getting back on their feet and provide whatever relief to the locals that we can.”