National Park of American Samoa: Update On Recovery From Tsunami
On Tuesday, September 30th, the visitor center and headquarters building for the National Park of American Samoa, located in Pago Pago, was hit by wave after wave of a tsunami caused by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. Water rushed through the first floor of the building, destroying its contents and washing away visitor center exhibits and irreplaceable artifacts. On Friday, October 2nd, the Western Incident Management Team (Denny Ziemann, IC) began overseeing tsunami recovery efforts and providing direct assistance to the park, its employees and volunteers:
- Assessment, assistance and cleanup – Working with superintendent Mike Reynolds, park staff and volunteers, village matais (heads of families), and mayors, the team coordinated debris removal in the partner villages of Pago Pago, Leone, Vatia, Fagasa and Afono and in the park visitor center and headquarters building. Putting aside their personal losses of property, possessions and, for many, loved ones, park volunteers and staff rallied to help the villages ravaged by the tsunami. A crew cleaned out the wreckage inside the visitor center on Saturday. Cleanup operations continue this week. A marine resources assessment has yet to be completed due to lack of transportation.
- Search and recovery – Crew members also assisted in the search for a six-year-old boy who went missing during the tsunami. The search was suspended on Thursday evening without locating the missing boy. In the aftermath of the tsunami, several park staff helped extract eight bodies from the wreckage; three were found in Leone and five in Pago Pago.
Counseling – The tsunami was a life-changing event for many. While no park staff were lost in the tsunami, many lost family members and homes and many are temporarily displaced from their homes due to lack of utilities and damage. Critical incident stress management debriefings for park staff will be held this week. CISM representatives Ralph Bell and John Broward are educating staff on the signs and symptoms of stress related to the incident and encouraging the use of the employee assistance program for further support.
- Cultural resources – Members of the Service’s Western Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team – Melia Lane-Kamahele, Steve Floray and Tammy Duchesne – worked quickly to complete an inventory of artifacts and archeological and herbarium specimens. Oral histories by local residents were damaged and will undergo treatment by specialists in Honolulu. Archeology and herbarium specimens appear to be salvageable. Contemporary fine mats and siapos (cedar cloth) were damaged and destroyed. The damaged mats were taken to local weaver Akanese Zec and Inailau A Tina, one of two park partner weaver groups, for cleaning and repair using traditional techniques. The mats will be returned in a ceremony today. Tina Mo A Taeo is also a dedicated partner weaver group. Sadly, the irreplaceable artifacts that were located on the first floor were a complete loss. The team treated and stabilized electronic media and files, CDs, floppy disks and slides. Eleven filing cabinets filled with park documents were sent to Honolulu Saturday evening for treatment.
- Support – Those wishing to make contributions to support employees and their families should make checks payable to NPSA Employee Disaster Relief Fund and send them t Hawaii Natural History Association, PO Box 74, Hawaii National Park, HI 96718.
The IMT is working with the park to explore options for restoring temporary operations. An estimate of damages and the cost of replacing equipment, vehicles and the other park assets lost in the devastation has not been completed.
Patti Wold, Incident Information Officer, October 5, 2009