Hawaii soldiers provide 'great help' to American Samoa


POSTED: Thursday, October 01, 2009

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa >> Teams of Hawaii National Guard service members fanned out across American Samoa today, helping coordinate relief and rescue efforts in the wake of Tuesday's tsunami.

The death toll remained at 31 in American Samoa this afternoon, said Betty Ahsoon, a spokeswoman at the Emergency Operations Center. No new missing people have been reported, she said.

However, Police Chief Leseiau V. Laumoli said rescue crews were still searching for a missing girl in Asili, near Leone. The girl and her mother were shopping when the tsunami hit the store they were in.

Rescuers found the mother's body, but her daughter remained missing this afternoon.

Laumoli said there have also been problems with looting and a few arrests have been made. But, he said, people are mostly working together to help each other out.

Electricity has been restored to most of the island, except for some areas in the north, Ahsoon said. Roads were open, but crowed with cars.

In Pago Pago, a cleanup was underway, but the damage was still visible near the harbor. Cars and boats washed ashore  littered the main highway.

First floor stores in the Pago Plaza shopping center remained closed. The tsunami washed through the first floor and nearly rose into second floor offices Tuesday morning.

Joyetter Feagaimaalii was about to deliver the news in the second floor offices of V103 and 93KHJ Radio when the earthquake hit. About 10 minutes later she looked out the window and said she saw the water rising.

“;We saw the water coming up to our window and we saw our cars floating and we saw containers floating”; she said. “;I was just screaming.”;

This afternoon Maj. Joe Laurel, commander of the 93rd Civil Support unit of the Hawaii Army National Guard, met with police Capt. Taase Sagapolutele in front of Pago Plaza.

“;What else can I do to help?”; Laurel asked.

Sagapolutele said there was a need for fuel for police vehicles and a boat and for heavy equipment for cleanup. They also discussed setting up tents where people could come to get water and food at a nearby community center.

“;This is fast relief for our people,”; Laumoli said. “;It is a great help.”;

Two Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo jets full of Hawaii Air National Guard and Army Reserve personnel and equipment arrived in Pago Pago from Hawaii in the last two days. Crews who arrived last night unloaded equipment that arrived this morning and started heading out into American Samoa.

Two teams are working in the hardest hit areas of Pago Pago and Leone.

“;We've exercised many times. Now is actually a chance to go out and do it,”; Senior Master Sgt. David Franks.

Nearly 100 Hawaii Guard and Reserve members were expected to help in the relief efforts.

All the Hawaii service members on the mission volunteered, including Staff Sgt. Jennifer Kim, a public school teacher with the Air National Guard. “;We're trained to do this,”; she said.