UPDATE Gita: Emergency shelters now closed
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Department of Homeland Security -TEMCO is advising the public that the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) telephone #:699-3800 is currently not working. Please use telephone #:699-0411 if you want to contact the EOC. Homeland Security – TEMCO will advise when telephone #:699-3800 is back in service. Also please report any weather related incident to the EOC at 699-0411 or the Police at 633-1111.
Many of the homes impacted by Tropical Storm Gita fall under the “major damage” category, based on the first assessment which was conducted for five days following the storm, and the results were used in a request submitted to US President Donald Trump for a major disaster declaration, according to ASG offcials.
The first preliminary damage assessment (PDA) was carried out jointly by ASG and its federal partners including the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
And now ASG, by itself, is conducting a second assessment, with 10 teams fanning out to all villages on Tutuila since Wednesday this week and will continue until all villages are assessed with the assistance of village mayors, says Lt. Gov. Lemanu Sialega Palepoi Mauga, who is also the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR).
In a joint Samoa News/KSBS-FM interview, Lemanu said this is a huge task ahead for ASG in carrying out the second assessment to ensure that all homes in villages are included, as there have been complaints from the community of homes not being assessed the first time, after Gita.
“We had a short period of time during the first joint assessment to gather data to be included in the governor’s request for a major disaster declaration,” Lemanu explained. “For the second assessment, it will take longer as the governor wants to make sure that all villages are visited on Tutuila, before heading to Aunu’u and Manu’a.”
The governor also plans to conduct an assessment of the private sector — businesses, private schools, and churches, said Lemanu, adding that the governor wants to make sure every sector of the community is covered in the second assessment and data will be available if there is a US presidential major disaster declaration.
Lemanu acknowledged public complaints and concerns over the distribution of temporary shelters, or tents, that were provided by FEMA and distributed by the local government.
There are residents who have complained of not getting a FEMA tent, after their home was damaged while not far down the road, another family has a FEMA tent.
Lemanu explained that the first assessment was categorized in three areas: Destroyed, major damage, and minimum or minor damage to the home. He said the priority by Lolo and the government was to provide assistance to those with destroyed homes and FEMA tents were distributed to them, while the American Red Cross supplied the welcome kit, which includes a small stove and propane tanks, and a clean up kit.
Regarding homes in the “major damage” category, Public Works director Faleosina Voigt explained that notice was posted on these homes, which are considered “unsafe to occupy”. She said DPW crews conducted inspections of the homes for verification and posted the notice.
Additionally, DPW crews returned for a follow-up visit if anything had changed in the status of the home and if not, the family is then provided a FEMA tent.
As for homes that suffered minimum or minor damages, Lemanu said tarps are available to assist these families.
Voigt explained that during the first assessment, the teams assessed 1,434 homes and of that total, 201 were considered “destroyed” while many of the impacted homes fell under the “major damage” category — about 600 homes. After the first assessment was completed, the government received about 1,500 calls from members of the public whose homes were not assessed, said Voigt, adding that as the government prepared to conduct the second assessment, 1,000 additional new calls came in.
“So we have this large number of about 2,500 to cover during the second assessment,” said Voigt, who noted that there were many calls from Tualauta and Ituau. “Therefore it’s going to take time to conduct the second assessment compared to the first one which was about five days.”
Lemanu along with Voigt emphasized that the second assessment will be conducted until every single corner of the island is covered. The public is asked to be patient and work together with the assessment teams.
Also, those who called in to the Emergency Operations Center to report that their homes need to be assessed must provide the correct telephone number because there have been cases where ASG officials call back but the phone belongs to someone else or it’s the wrong number.
Another issue deals with name of the contact person. For example, the person gives the EOC one name to register on the list but when officials try to reach that person, it’s a whole different story.
In the meantime, EOC at 699-3800 is still accepting calls to register your name and telephone number so your home is visited for assessment.
The emergency shelters — which started out at public schools and later moved to church halls — were officially closed as of Wednesday, as FEMA and ASG assistance has been provided to people who were living in the shelters.
Lemanu said the tents and other assistance, including those from the Red Cross, have been provided to families that were housed at the emergency shelters. He noted that following the storm some residents sought refuge with their neighbors.
He thanked church leaders for use of their halls for shelters as well as individual families who offered their homes to their neighbors who sought emergency shelter.
The American Red Cross provided meals to 13 emergency shelters when they were open.
Lemanu asks the community to treat American Red Cross staff and volunteers who are out in the field providing assistance with respect and be patient as Red Cross works on providing service to those impacted by the storm.
He reminded the public that the Red Cross workers are “volunteers” and he thanked them for their commitment.
Red Cross said the service it is providing to the public is based on the Damage Assessment completed by ASG. As of Wednesday, the Red Cross had distributed over 31,000 total items to the public including tarps, clean up kits, coolers, portable stoves with propane, jumpstart to recovery kits, and comfort kits.
Some families with homes assessed as destroyed or having major damage have not reported to the Red Cross distribution sites.
Starting yesterday, and continuing today and tomorrow, Red Cross says it will call these families to set up a time and location to provide assistance.