Territory at top of the list for FEMA disaster relief

GAO: After Katrina, territory is “highest per capita obligation”

Excluding Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, the “highest per capita obligation” for federal declared disasters over the past eleven fiscal years, is American Samoa with per person at more than $3,000; according a U.S. Government Accountability report released yesterday morning.

A congressional subcommittee requested the 80-page report titled “Federal Disaster Assistant”. GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, said the growing number of disaster declarations — a record 98 in fiscal year 2011 compared with 65 in 2004 — has contributed to increased federal assistance.

The GAO report outlined by each state and territorial jurisdiction federal funding obligations for Disaster Declarations during fiscal year 2004 through 2011, as of Jan. 31, 2012.

For American Samoa, whose population is just over 55,000 — according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau — a total of $217 million was obligated for us during this period and the largest amount of $74 million was for Public Assistance followed by Individual Assistance.

“Obligations on a per person basis varied for disasters declared during fiscal years 2004 through 2011. For example, including Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana had the highest per capita obligations at $7,236,” the report says.

“...but excluding obligations for Hurricane Katrina, American Samoa had the highest obligations at $3,795 per person,” it says. For the lowest obligations per person, Colorado had 81 cents and the Marshall Islands had zero.

The report says that between 1953 and 2011, American Samoa had been given eleven disaster declarations but did not specify the number of disasters between fiscal years 2004 and 2011.

However, a statistics summary released more than a year ago by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on its website, as part of a nationwide “Annual Major Disasters Declarations” for all U.S. jurisdictions shows that there were only eleven natural events in American Samoa designated as major disasters by the U.S. government over four decades.

Samoa News points out that there were other natural disasters for American Samoa that were not considered major disasters by the federal government. Once an event is declared by a sitting U.S. President as a major disaster, U.S. jurisdictions receive federal assistance.

According to FEMA summary, the first recorded disaster declared as a major disaster event for American Samoa was Feb. 10, 1966 for “Typhoon, High Tides”. This paved the way for the first “hurricane homes” popularly known as “fale afa” built in the territory by the feds, some of which are still in existence today.

In earlier days, the hurricanes for American Samoa appear to have been called typhoons, based on the FEMA summary report. The next declared disaster for American Samoa was in 1974 labeled “drought” which occurred in September of that year. Five years later in November 1979 was the declaration for “flooding, mudslides and landslides,” according to FEMA.

On Mar. 24, 1981 was the declaration for “Typhoon Esau” followed by “Hurricane Tusi” on Jan. 24, 1987; a “hurricane” on Feb. 9, 1990; then on Dec. 13 in 1991 was the declaration for “Hurricane Val,” which sustained damage to property in the two Samoas.

After Val, there was no major declared disaster for the territory until May 2003 when heavy non-stop rain caused serious “flooding, landslides and mudslides”.

Another disaster struck the territory the following year in January 2004 with Cyclone Heta — the first devastating cyclone to sweep through the Samoan Archipelago in more than a decade — causing widespread damage.

Another hurricane struck the Samoan islands the following year in February 2005 with Cyclone Olaf, which did a lot of damage to the Manu’a Island group while much of Tutuila and neighboring Samoa were spared.

The last major designated disaster recorded by FEMA for American Samoa was the Sept. 29, 2009 earthquake which spawned a massive tsunami killing 34 people in the territory, a disaster described by Gov. Togiola Tulafono as the worst one in the history of American Samoa.

More information on FEMA stats as well as hurricane preparedness is available on www.fema.gov. For the GAO report released yesterday, it’s found on www.gao.gov


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