Saturday, April 3, 2010

American Samoa

It has been ten months since my last post. There are some new improvements on Narrow Escape to report, and our upcoming second year to take part in the spring race from Newport Beach to San Diego (

But this posting is devoted to the three and a half months I spent in American Samoa after its devastating tsunami on September 29, 2009. I work on an as-needed basis for FEMA and was among the group of workers sent in to help with the American territory's disaster recovery. I was there through January of this year. The disaster took 34 lives, destroyed 276 dwellings and damaged another 2,650. Recovery is going well, but it is always a slow process and the losses can never be fully compensated.

American Samoa is a beautiful place populated with friendly, generous, family-oriented people. If you're familiar with Santa Catalina Island here in Southern California, imagine it in the tropics and covered with rain forest and you have a fair idea of the size and shape of the main island of American Samoa. Now put 60,000 people there, with a village on nearly every cove and a large dog-legged harbor in the center of the island complete with shipping docks, tuna canneries, a small shipyard, a large fuel tank farm, homes, shops, government buildings, churches, and very few tourist accommodations and the picture is more complete.

I work for FEMA's External Affairs Division, where my 40 years of journalism experience is put to use. In American Samoa I was a videographer/photographer for the recovery effort. I've included links to my official videos and photos on FEMA's website in case you're interested. There also are links to personal videos I took on my days off.

Immediately below, are photos taken from a sailboat in Pago Pago Harbor during the tsunami. I got the pictures from the island's public television station, KVZK-TV, but no information on who took them or the name of the boat. The most dramatic pictures, which show waterfall-like wave action, were taken when the water was rapidly receding after flooding the Pago Pago area to about 18 feet above sea level. The water is falling back into the harbor over the shore and docks, with disastrous effect.

Links to my FEMA videos:

"FCO Update 10-20-09 American Samoa"

"Power Restored in American Samoa"

"Private Property Debris Removal for American Samoa"

"Hazmat Recovery in Pago Pago Harbor"

"FEMA Region IX Administrator Visits American Samoa"

"Larger Tents for American Samoa"

"Interim Electrical Power for American Samoa"

"Temporary School Buildings in American Samoa"

"Damaged Cemetery Eligible for Federal Aid"

"EPA Cleans Up HAZMAT in American Samoa"

"Permanent Housing Construction in American Samoa"

"New Temporary Classrooms in Use in American Samoa"

"ICS in American Samoa, USCG"

"ICS in American Samoa, NPS"

"ICS in American Samoa, Governor and FEMA"

Other FEMA videos taken before and after my tour of duty in American Samoa are available at

Personal videos:

Christmas Caroling in American Samoa

Riding buses in American Samoa