Disaster Relief Officials Deal With Chuuk Damage

by Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): July 8, 2002 - The latest information about the number of people killed and injured in landslides in Chuuk will not be available until later today, according to the Chuuk State disaster recovery office.

Eric Paul, the disaster coordinator, said information cannot be released until it is compiled and approved by a recently created task force.

At last report, there were 33 people confirmed dead and four people missing and presumed dead.

The landslides were caused by rain from Tropical Storm Chata'an, which later became a typhoon and passed over Guam.

Typhoon Chata'an battered Guam on Friday with 100 mph-plus winds, causing massive damage and leaving the island powerless, with low to no water pressure in some areas.

Paul said the weather in Chuuk has improved, allowing boats to be sent to the outer islands to conduct damage assessments.

He said 15-foot waves in the lagoon and in the open water hampered those efforts during the past several days.

He said the task of removing the mud and debris has been overwhelming.

"They really cannot do anything because the water comes down with the mud, and it stays with the mud. Once you go in there, you get stuck in there. It's like a quicksand," he said.

"According to reports we get from some of these islands, they've been digging and digging, but they just gave up. There's no choice because the mudslides are not only mud, it's big rocks, tree debris. All kinds of heavy things are mixed with the mud, so it's really difficult."

He said some of the landslide sites are difficult to get to, and are accessible only by walking through mangroves or by small boat.

Paul said many people continue to stay in government shelters because they fear additional landslides.

"You can still see cracks," he said, noting that it appears additional segments of land could come down at any time.

Chuuk has experienced landslides, but it is unusual for so many to occur at one time, he said.