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Gov. Lolo has completed FEMA damage assessments in hand

[photo: THA]
Final decision to request a “major disaster declaration” rests with him

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The joint preliminary damage assessment (PDA) following Tropical Storm Gita is completed and the data has been turned over to the Governor’s Office to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who makes the final decision for requesting a major disaster declaration to the federal government.

The joint PDA, carried out early last week, involves the ASG Emergency Operation Center, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Small Business Administration, which makes low interest disaster loans to business owners if a major disaster is declared by the US President, says FEMA public information officer Victor Inge.

“The preliminary assessment is completed, with data put together and handed over to the Governor’s Office,” Inge said in a Samoa News interview yesterday.

Asked if the PDA would qualify the governor’s request for a major disaster declaration, Inge responded, “That’s what we don’t know. We go out and conduct the assessment and collect the data. We hand it over to governor who decides whether to make a request or not. So the governor makes that decision.”

And in all likelihood, “we have an indication that he will make the request” which if made, goes first to the FEMA regional office in Oakland, California, then it’s processed to FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., before its goes to the US Homeland Security Department and to the US President’s desk, according to Inge, who has been on island since early last week.

It’s unclear at this point as to when the governor will make a decision on whether or not to request a major disaster declaration, which Inge said early this week would trigger federal programs, which would help the territory rebuild its infrastructure and provide assistance to homeowners, renters and business owners.

It’s also unclear at this point as to an estimated cost of damages to infrastructure, homes and other property.

Inge doesn't have an estimate of the dollar amounts of damages caused by Gita, saying that their assessment focused directly on collecting the PDA data to be presented to the governor. Samoa News understands that details of the information would become available when the governor makes a request for an emergency disaster declaration.

Inge reiterated yesterday that FEMA is still operating under the first presidential emergency declaration, adding, “we’ve had our federal partners here” working with FEMA. Federal partners, include SBA, US Department of Human and Social Service, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

He noted that FEMA has provided direct federal assistance (as cited in the first presidential declaration) to the territory and some assistance was in the form of tents, or temporary shelters for storm victims.

The FEMA tents are similar to those that FEMA distributed local residents impacted by the 2009 earthquake and tsunami.

In its 6pm post-storm bulletin Feb. 21, the EOC noted that FEMA is providing tents as temporary shelter as Direct Federal Assistance to the ASG.

“We are providing temporary shelter to disaster survivors with homes that have been destroyed,” said EOC, adding that the families that will have tents set up on their property will be contacted by Office of Samoan Affairs (OSA) when contractors are ready to install them.

Additionally, the American Red Cross will visit with families receiving tents to provide ‘Welcome Kits’ that will help make the tents livable.

Families with homes that have major damages or were destroyed are in the villages of Afono, Vatia, Nuuuli and Faga’ima, Tafuna.