As American Samoa remembers tsunami tragedy, territory declared ‘Tsunami Ready’
Today American Samoa marks the third year anniversary of the disaster that claimed the lives of 34 people, causing millions of dollars in damage to homes and property. Appropriately yesterday, American Samoa received its first certification as a Tsunami Ready community by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
Details on the Tsunami Ready program were published in Friday’s edition.
The ceremony held at the government’s Fale Samoa at Utulei Beach Park, led off with an invocation by Rev. Dr. Fa’atauva’a Talamoni of the CCCAS in Pago Pago.
Addressing those gathered, Gov. Togiola Tulafono, said during the tsunami on September 29, 2009 the territory’s preparation were not adequate, not good enough — and that makes today (Friday) just that much more special being told and being presented this blessing of readiness and preparedness — it should be comforting for all of us.
He thanked the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency for being great partners and for all their efforts, which have enabled American Samoa to be certified Tsunami Ready.
The governor noted that before American Samoa was hit by the disaster, the NOAA office was trying to work with government to put in place a warning system.
“Everybody blamed everybody else in the world when the disaster struck. Unfortunately we concentrated only on the disaster and failed to recognize the efforts of NOAA and US Army that were conducted long before the disaster, and the efforts of Department of Homeland Security prior to the disaster, to help us get ready.
“There were a lot of wonderful and great efforts that were ignored when we lost lives. “No one else cared about anything — all the criticism was focused on why the lives lost, nobody wants to lose anybody… that’s very clear, and if you listened to the news at that time, it makes it sound as if we didn’t care. WE DID CARE,” he said.
(Togiola is referring to the community’s outrage that the siren system was not in place at the time of the 2009 disaster, despite the many years the Homeland Security office, which was under the governor’s office at the time, had to plan and implement the system.)
The governor said works have been in place since the disaster and resulted in a great day such as this. He quoted a message by Rev. Dr. Talamoni that knowing is only half the battle, the other half God will help us.
However, he noted that while he was walking the villages in Manu’a during his campaign for office, High Talking Chief Malaepule from Manu’a told him, “God’s blessings don’t come for free, you must work for it.”
The other half of the work is maintaining the systems so they are always ready. Togiola urged everyone to continue to be aware and prepared and to continue with the drills in the school, villages.
He added that we must never be a complacent community. “We have to keep up the vigilance. We can go from a tsunami ready community today and tsunami disasters tomorrow, very easily, don’t let up the effort.”
The governor acknowledged DHSS Director Mike Sala, Deputy Director Jacinta Brown and the DHSS employees.
He made special recognition of Brown noting that she been their brains and muscles throughout this project. Another person he acknowledged was Vinnie Atofau Jr. “These two are such hardworking smart individuals.”
Togiola also received recognition — a commendation letter and Tsunami Ready street signs presented to him by Pacific Regional Director NOAA/National Weather Service Jeff Ladouce.
Ladouce told the governor that he should be proud of this accomplishment, noting that he’s extremely pleased to be present to recognize the dedicated efforts of everyone, involved in achieving Tsunami Ready status. “Your demonstrated commitment to disaster preparation and to personnel safety is huge.”
The regional director recognized, the US Army Corps of Engineers, DHSS, FEMA, US Geological Survey, the National Park, and the local weather office. He said that on February 2009 and later in July of that year they conducted training and outreach program that has been credited for saving thousands of lives just a couple of months later.
FEMA Region IX Administrator, Nancy Ward also gave remarks during the ceremony, noting that “while the pain of that day will be slow in receding for our fellow Americans who call Samoa home, the last 36 months have also brought some bittersweet progress that is as important to note as our collective losses.”
She said that FEMA is proud to have provided funding and technical expertise.
“We are even prouder to be only one asset in the broad array of “Whole Community” organizations that have helped to reduce the tyranny of distance in American Samoa.
“So, on the third anniversary of a terrible chapter in American Samoa’s history, let us share some pride along with our prayers knowing that we have truly honored the lost by making future generations safer,” said Ward.