US Emergency Management Agency Assesses Flood Damage In Am. Samoa

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Small FEMA team to help determine is federal assistance is needed

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 5, 2014) – The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to dispatch "a small team" to American Samoa to conduct jointly with territorial authorities an assessment of damage caused by last Tuesday’s heavy rain, flooding and mudslides.

This was revealed during last Saturday's briefing between Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s and his cabinet. The briefing covered the update from damage caused during the flooding and heavy rain as well as other issues.

By yesterday morning Samoa News had received a handful of public inquiries on whether the federal government, especially FEMA will send representatives to the territory for their own assessment of last Tuesday’s heavy rain and flooding.

Responding to Samoa News questions, FEMA Region 9 spokesman John Hamill said it’s expected that "a small team of FEMA professionals" will be sent to American Samoa to participate in joint Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDA’s) with counterparts from the American Samoan government.

"The time and means of the deployment of the FEMA PDA team is being discussed now, and is dependent on timely and available transportation," Hamill said from Oakland, California late yesterday morning.

Asked about the length of time that the team will take to conduct its assessment, and what would they be looking for as part of the assessment, he responded, "While conducting the PDA’s should not be a lengthy process, it is not advisable to speculate on how long the process will take before the joint FEMA/ASG team is together on the island."

"The PDA’s are ‘required’ as an initial step in determining whether supplemental federal disaster assistance is needed to recover from an event. Actual eligibility is not guaranteed," he said when asked if FEMA assessment results will be helpful in getting federal funding.

As to whether FEMA was alerted about the flooding in American Samoa and if contact was made with territorial officials, Hamill explained that FEMA carefully tracks storms in the Pacific through "our Watch Center" and by contact with the National Weather Service and other local and federal agencies on a 24 /7 basis.

Additionally, the Watch Center has also been in daily contact with the American Samoa Department of Homeland Security regarding the recent heavy rains, and their potential and actual impact on American Samoa for the past week.

At last Saturday’s briefing, Lolo tasked Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and ASDHS Director Utuali’i Iuniasolua to determine whether or not a disaster declaration for the damage caused by flooding and landslides should be submitted to the federal government before the deadline is reached, which is 30 days after the disaster. (See yesterday’s edition for more information.)

Flooding and landslides — especially in Gataivai, damaged some homes where a church was also damaged. There was one fatality, a 17-year old female Samoana High School student, whose body was found last Tuesday afternoon in Fagaalu Bay.

The last time Tutuila was hit with heavy rain, flooding and mudslides was in May 2003, and a federal declaration was issued two weeks later by then President Bush after a request by ASG. Then Gov. Togiola Tulafono also declared locally that an emergency existed.

In the 2003 incident, the worst hit areas were villages in the Bay Area, especially Fagatogo and Pago Pago, where major landslides occurred. The natural disaster claimed one life in Fagatogo and three in Pago Pago, including a teenager.

A total of eight people were injured due to the natural disaster, which severely damaged the old Fagaalu bridge — on the main road — preventing the flow of traffic for several hours. The bridge was later reconstructed in accordance with FEMA specifications.

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