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    Sunday, May 19, 2019-9:15:03A.M.






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Red Cross turns down typhoon victim’s request for assistance

JESSICA Ortizo, whose house in Chalan Piao was destroyed by Typhoon Yutu, sought help twice from the American Red Cross which, she said, rejected her request, twice, because her house could not be seen on Google Map.

In an interview, Ortizo said she went to the Tanapag Social Hall last week to avail herself of cash assistance from the Red Cross. “They asked for my address. I told them it was in between Chalan Piao and As Perdido Road. When they couldn’t find it on Google Map, my application was rejected,” she added.

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Sammy Ortizo stands in what used to be his house before it was destroyed by Typhoon Yutu.  Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

Ortizo, her husband Sammy and three children are currently staying at the TSL Sports Complex in Gualo Rai where 11 other families have also sought shelter.

The following day, Ortizo said she went back to the Red Cross and provided her exact address. “It was the owner of the land who told us the exact address of our place: 474 NEW1 As Perdido Road. Our house is in a commercial area, located at the back of JMC Iron Works where my husband works.”

She said she also provided a hand-sketched map to her house. “One of the Red Cross staff entered the exact address of my house on Google Map, and it showed the white buildings beside our house. Those buildings are intact but our house and our neighbors’ were destroyed,” she said.

Apparently not convinced, she said the Red Cross again rejected her application for financial aid, and told her that “there was only minor damage” to her house. “I was told I was not qualified, but they will visit my house. As of today [Tuesday] I have not heard from them.”

According to Ortizo,  they faced the same problem after Typhoon Soudelor hit the island in Aug.  2015. “The staff from American Red Cross had a hard time finding our place. Even though I lost half of my house, I only received cleaning materials from them.”

Sammy Ortizo said his house used to have three rooms, a kitchen and a receiving area. “What’s left is a small room.” The  roof is gone and the walls were destroyed.

Jessica Ortizo said they do not have money to rebuild their house.  “We don’t have savings because I just sent my eldest son to college this August,” she said. Her son, John Michael, is an engineering student at Portland University.

She said they also applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “FEMA staff visited our place. They did not rely on Google Map, and they were able to locate our house and did an assessment.”

Asked for comment, American Red Cross-NMI chapter executive director John Hirsh said:

“Our Red Cross team is working everyday trying to improve conditions for families here in Saipan and Tinian. We’ve distributed thousands of relief items, served 94,000 meals and provided those most impacted with case work and financial assistance. For us to do this important work, we have over 100 volunteers assisting, including those from Rota, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. To help families like the Ortizos with financial assistance we need to verify the damage to their home. We are using a GIS mapping program that allows us to identify house lots and the extend of the damage. The Ortizos live in an area that is not easy to locate, especially for our off-island volunteer teams. We interviewed them and explained that we needed to visit their home. We tried to find it and called them several times, but we were unable to connect with them. The Red Cross never ‘rejects’ or ‘denies’ assistance to a family whose home has been destroyed or has major damage. We serve all families regardless of citizenship or ethnic background. I’m very sorry that the Ortizo family has had difficulties getting the services they need for their recovery. I will personally reach out to them tomorrow so that I can get one of our teams to their house and hopefully improve their lives in some small way.”