Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"We are anticipating extensive infrastructure damage and limited communications capability in the aftermath of this Category 5 storm."

Togiola Tulafono
Governor of American Samoa

In this photo released by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, a satellite view collected at 1 p.m. Hawaii time yesterday showed Hurricane Olaf in the South Pacific located about 170 miles northwest of Pago Pago, American Samoa. The system was expected to intensify over the next 12 hours with wave heights reaching 50 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

Hurricane spurs
American Samoa
to shut schools
and open shelters

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa » Authorities set up emergency shelters and shut down schools, government offices and the airport yesterday as an "extremely dangerous" Hurricane Olaf zeroed in on American Samoa.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono declared a state of emergency and asked President Bush to issue a disaster declaration in anticipation of damage from the powerful storm.

Residents boarded up homes, businesses and church buildings in preparation for the storm, which was expected to pass near the U.S. territory's main island of Tutuila late last night. American Samoa is 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.

The storm was packing gusts up to 190 mph, and giant waves were expected to cause flooding in low-lying areas, the National Weather Service said.

The storm was about 140 miles northwest of Pago Pago yesterday afternoon, moving to the east-southeast at 10 mph. But forecasters said the hurricane would change track to come to within 50 miles north of Pago Pago by at about 2 a.m. Hawaii time.

The National Weather Service in Hawaii, which is monitoring the storm, said it is difficult to predict the exact path, and there is still a chance it could hit Tutuila.

If it stays on its predicted path, the storm would still bring gale force winds of about 40 mph and damaging surf of up to 40 feet with occasional higher sets and could cause coastal flooding, said Hawaii lead forecaster Jeff Powell.

If the storm hits the island, it could cause severe damage.

"We are anticipating extensive infrastructure damage and limited communications capability in the aftermath of this Category 5 storm," Tulafono said in his letter to the president. "Due to the magnitude of potential damages, I am submitting this request before the greatest impacts occur."

Authorities began evacuating residents from coastal and low-lying areas to about 60 emergency shelters set up at schools and church halls around the territory by late yesterday afternoon.

People stocked up on canned food, bottled water and flashlights. The three hardware stores in Pago Pago ran out of plywood yesterday and generators the day before.


The Samoa News, the territory's only daily newspaper, closed its offices yesterday morning and did not plan to publish an edition today.

The American Samoa Power Authority planned to cut electricity to most of the territory once winds reached 70 mph, with power remaining to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Medical Center and the emergency management office, officials said.

In Hawaii, William Emmsley, executive director of the Samoan Service Providers Association, was "hoping and praying" that the storm does not hit American Samoa and there is no loss of life.

He has four children in Leone Village, in the western part of Tutuila. Two of his children attend high school there and two are in college.

"I'm sitting here on pins and needles," he said, adding that he's been calling every couple of hours for an update.

"They've hunkered down and hope for the best," he said.

Hawaiian Airlines canceled flights to and from American Samoa yesterday when the airport was closed. The decision on when the flights will resume will be made on a day-to-day basis, said a spokesman.

The flight going to American Samoa had 221 passengers scheduled, and the return flight had 137 passengers. The airline expects to send an extra plane when service resumes to take care of demand.

The local American Red Cross office is prepared to send cleanup kits and comfort kits down to American Samoa, said Cassandra Isidoro, chief operating officer for the American Red Cross in Hawaii. Relief supplies for Pacific emergencies are stored in Hawaii, she said.

Two disaster specialists are also scheduled to go to American Samoa on Friday to assess the damage and start coordinating relief operations.

The cleanup kits contain mops, buckets, brooms and other supplies to clean up after an emergency. The comfort kits consist of basic toiletry items like razors, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste for people who may be living in emergency shelters.

Tulafono said he had four ambulances, two quick response units and 14 emergency vehicles in place on Tutuila, and opened the 100-bed Tafuna Clinic to handle overflow from the hospital.

The last major hurricane to hit the area was Heta, which plowed through American Samoa and neighboring Samoa in January 2004 with winds up to 200 mph.

Heta damaged more than 4,600 homes in American Samoa, according to the American Red Cross. In Samoa, winds devastated up to 90 percent of the island nation's crops.

Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tropical Storm Tracker
Central Pacific Hurricane Center
National Weather Service - Hawaii

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