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The U.S. territories need storm relief too

Sep. 20, 2018
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While the continental United States was anticipating Hurricane Florence last week, another part of the country was struck by a different storm: Super Typhoon Mangkhut. Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands—U.S. territories about a three-hour flight from Tokyo—bore the brunt of Mangkhut’s initial landfall last Monday. Winds flew at 100 miles an hour as the storm’s eye hit the Mariana Island of Rota. 

Though not widely reported, the relief effort has been relatively efficient. A state of emergency was declared in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana, after the Governor’s request was approved by President Donald Trump. About 50 representatives from FEMA were assessing damage on the ground in Guam last Tuesday, and over 100 marines arrived on Rota to clear debris on September 9. 

While the recovery efforts following these storms have been great, and there have been no deaths reported so far, response to Mangkhut has been an exception. The United States territories have seen a general trend of being ignored in favor of continental issues. 

There are five major U.S. territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those born in American Samoa are considered U.S. nationals, while natives of the other territories are U.S. citizens. Despite this, the territories are often overlooked as a valid part of the United States. Although 1 in 8 Pacific Islander adults have served in the armed forces, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported spending less on medical expense per capita in Guam than anywhere else in the United States. While the territories send delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives, those delegates cannot vote on House agenda. None of the territories can participate in the general election for President. 

As Anne Perez Hattori, a Chamorro history professor at the University of Guam, told AlJazeera, "We're reliant upon U.S. Congress to determine our rights, and U.S. Congress, it's this huge body. We don't have a vote there, so we don't have bargaining power.”

For the territories, all islands that often bear intense weather, this division from the mainland United States can be dangerous. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico almost a year ago. In that time the public has learned that the initial reports of 64 deaths pale in comparison to an estimated almost 3,000 from experts at Georgetown University. President Trump has yet to form the committee to oversee reconstruction efforts, and no major congressional report has been made. 

As the East Coast of the continental United States begins to repair from Hurricane Florence, less and less attention and fewer resources will be devoted to the territories. In the Northern Marianas, Guam, and especially Puerto Rico, this could do massive damage.