On Tuesday, the territory of American Samoa was struck by a major tsunami, causing widespread destruction in its coastal communities.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people in the impacted region. Unfortunately disasters, like the tsunami, often strike with little or no warning. But we are working hard, both before events like this and now during this important response, to ensure that our team is ready.
Within an hour of the notification that American Samoa may have been hit by a tsunami, FEMA was working closely with its federal and regional partners, collecting information and executing our response plan.
That meant immediately standing up our National Response Coordination Center in our Washington, DC headquarters, as well as our Regional Response Coordination Center in Region IX. FEMA’s Region IX, based out of California, oversees all emergency responses for American Samoa and is the lead for our current response efforts. That order led to a rapid staffing up of these centers both by FEMA employees, as well as our close partners in DHS, the Coast Guard, the American Red Cross, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services, to name a few.
When a disaster strikes one of our territories in the Pacific, our number one priority is airlifting in lifesaving and life sustaining materials to respond to the needs of the survivors. Because of the vast distances between islands in the Pacific, we have prepositioned supplies already in Hawaii constantly on stand by for emergencies like this—and within hours of the President’s disaster declaration we began mobilizing those resources. Working with the Coast Guard, we deployed initial response teams and began moving supplies like food, water, sheltering materials, and medical supplies.
As I write this, additional military flights are in the air, with more supplies on the way to American Samoa to meet the needs that Governor Tulafono has prioritized.
To be clear, we are still in the response phase of this disaster, but thanks to the quick leadership of the President, Secretary Napolitano, Governor Tulafono and our federal partners, supplies and response teams are on the ground, with more on the way.
For those of you who want to know how you can help the people of American Samoa today, I encourage to visit our partners, like the American Red Cross, and give what you can to aid in this recovery.
Emergency response is a team effort – but FEMA is only one part of that team. In the last 48 hours, we’ve seen that team at work. But as images and reports from the ground continue to come in, it is clear that the recovery for the people of American Samoa will be a long process, and unfortunately there are many in American Samoa who still need our help. We are keeping them in our thoughts and prayers, and we will continue to do all we can on behalf of the President, Secretary Napolitano and the Governor to provide a speedy response and aid in American Samoa’s ultimate recovery.
Craig Fugate is Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency