Aftershocks keep Samoa on edge

As early response continues, disaster response organizations plan long-term recovery


A resident looks at damages in a village on American Samoa following an earthquake and tsunami last month;
Credit: FEMA

Strong aftershocks during the last two weeks have kept tensions high in American Samoa as disaster responders struggle to meet the most basic needs of food, shelter and clean water more than two weeks after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck Samoa and neighboring islands killing 180 people.

The Government of American Samoa estimates early recovery costs at around $147 million according to the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs office. The waves completely destroyed 20 villages and damaged more than 40 others.

“Right now . . . we are still meeting immediate needs,” said Evelyn Sao-Stevens, director of American Samoa Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already delivered shipments of two-man tents, but these temporary shelters do not meet the needs of families in American Samoa.

“Most of these families are composed of 10 to 14 people,” said Sao. “I’ve challenged the United States Island and Alaska Committee (a National VOAD committee for non-continental states and territories) to look for family sized tents.”

“The other concern and immediate need that we have gathered information from in the disaster area is the children,” said Sao.

There is an overwhelming need for baby formula, food and disposable diapers in affected areas, as food provided by relief agencies does not always meet the dietary requirements of small children.

A number of faith-based response organizations either have teams in American Samoa or are monitoring the situation through partner organizations.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) Disaster Response Services is working with FEMA to evaluate long-term housing reconstruction needs.

The Congressional Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS) located in Pago Pago is providing aid with the help of their partner the United Church of Christ (UCC). Catholic Charities, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) and many other organizations have also responded.

Veryl Henderson, executive director of Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention, reported to the North American Missions Board, “Our churches in American Samoa are making sandwiches and distributing them into communities. …pastors are overwhelmed at the moment with grief and funerals.”

U.S.-based faith-based response organizations may be very helpful in the rebuilding process because many people who live in American Samoa cannot qualify for FEMA assistance because they are not U.S. citizens.

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the South Pacific north of New Zealand.

On September 29, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, more than 100 miles off the coast of American Samoa, created a tsunami that devastated the islands of Samoa, American Samoa and other nearby islands killing more than 100 people.

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