Release Number: R9-10-012
Oakland, Calif. -- One year ago today a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck American Samoa and caused extensive damage and loss of life. The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has worked side-by-side with the survivors since the tragedy, and today the leadership and employees of FEMA offer their heartfelt condolences and a shared optimism for the future to the people of American Samoa still struggling to put their lives back together.
Though much has been done to help American Samoa recover, there is still a long way to go before the island returns to its "new normal."
A year ago today, help for the survivors was en-route within hours of the earthquake and tsunami.
FEMA, in partnership with the American Samoa Government (ASG) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), launched recovery efforts within a day of the disastrous tsunami, which killed 32 people and left two missing.
The series of towering waves also disabled the local power plants; destroyed 248 homes and 28 rental units; and damaged another 2,750 dwellings. One school was destroyed and another four suffered substantial damage. Roads, bridges, churches, and everything in the waves' paths were damaged to varying degrees. The small island and its 65,000 residents were left with the daunting task of rebuilding their island.
"It wasn't just a FEMA team that responded to American Samoa," said FEMA Regional Administrator Nancy Ward, whose region oversees and coordinates federal relief efforts in American Samoa. "It was all members of our federal family, the American Samoan government, and faith-based and volunteer organizations who were crucial to the success of the response and recovery efforts. Most of all, the American Samoan people showed tremendous resolve and determination to do whatever it took to get this island and their lives back on track."
In the past year, FEMA and its federal and voluntary agency partners, in lockstep with the ASG, have provided the following assistance to the island and its residents:
- Obligated more than $37 million in FEMA's Individual Assistance programs. This includes assistance under various FEMA programs, including Housing Assistance, Other Needs Assistance (dental, medical, moving, storage) and a variety of other needs.
- Obligated more than $15 million to the ASG to rebuild public infrastructure, mitigate against future disasters and reimburse the American Samoa government for some of the money spent during the initial response.
- In consultation with the ASG, FEMA determined that the best, most appropriate housing solution for the survivors of the American Samoa tsunami whose homes were completely destroyed was to construct permanent housing. As the construction of permanent housing in an area that is both remote and insular was a new mission for FEMA, the agency initiated a pilot program utilizing Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act authorities and planned two phases of construction.
- Phase one, which is complete, required the construction of eight homes and ten additional site preparations. All eight homes are now occupied.
- The contract for phase two is expected to be awarded in October with ground-breaking expected to follow shortly thereafter. Thirty-three homes are expected to be constructed in phase two. Overall, the entire pilot program currently stands at 41 homes.
Immediately following the earthquake and tsunami, FEMA and its partners were able to quickly employ an "air bridge" to bring in planeloads of resources, including generators, tents, medical teams and supplies. Other assistance in the early days and weeks included:
- Volunteer partners helped with repairs to damaged homes
- U.S. Army corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), removed more than 25,000 cubic yards of hazardous debris from the harbor.
As a result of the tsunami, the Satala Power Plant was severely damaged, causing a 60 percent loss of power generation on the island. Through a coordinated effort between FEMA, USACE, and the ASG, power was fully restored within three weeks.
- Provided temporary housing and sheltering to those whose homes were destroyed or left uninhabitable:
o Distributed 1,292 dome tents within weeks of the tsunami.
o Provided 473 Celina tents to18 villages across the island. (A FEMA staffer designed a special floor using pallets and plywood to serve as floors for the Celina tents. American Samoa Government workers built the decks.)
o Distributed short term housing kits including tents, comfort kits, cots/sleeping mats, camp stoves and fuel to villages.
- FEMA and the USACE erected 12 temporary classrooms to support five damaged or destroyed schools. These high tech structures are designed to withstand winds of up to 140 mph.
"FEMA has, and will continue to work closely with the Governor and local officials every step of the way to ensure residents have the resources they need as they continue to recover," said Ward. "On this one-year anniversary we want the people of American Samoa to know we are with them in our hearts as well."
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.