SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (NNS) -- Federal and local officials announced that the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked aboard the dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) completed its disaster relief mission in Saipan.
"We are not only pleased with the results and the production of water but also that [the service members] became a part of our community for the last 2-3 weeks," Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Lt. Gov. Ralph Torres said. "We will miss you guys and we would like to extend our sincere appreciation."
Torres and Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Coordinating Officer Steve DeBlasio thanked the Navy-Marine Corps team for its hard work in a joint press conference at the Garapan Fishing Base on Saturday. The Marines have been providing water and conducting debris clearance on Saipan since Aug. 9 following Typhoon Soudelor. Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, Commander Joint Region Marianas, and Lt. Col. Eric Malinowski, 31st MEU Liaison, were in attendance as well.
"Their assistance expedited immediate humanitarian relief," DeBlasio said. "We appreciate the unique capabilities of the Marines."
The 31st MEU produced and distributed more than 300,000 gallons of water combined at five sites and more than 70,000 meals. Marines and Ashland Sailors also helped clear debris at local schools earlier last week. On Saturday evening at the Garapan Fishing Base, they were still filling water jugs as the Marines were preparing to move back aboard Ashland.
The team was part of a larger federal response that included the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard, elements of which will remain on Saipan for the longer recovery effort.
"It's been a joint effort," Bolivar said. "We are proud and honored to have assisted our island and to ease the suffering of its people in a time of need. Our hearts go out to the resilient people of Saipan and we thank you for opening your arms to us."