Disaster declared
in Samoa

The most urgent need is for
fresh water in Manua villages
hit by Hurricane Olaf

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa » President Bush has declared American Samoa a major disaster area following Hurricane Olaf, which wiped out nearly all the homes in at least one village in the Manua Islands, a government official said yesterday.

Leiataua B.V. Alailima, regional advisor for the Territorial Office of Homeland Security, announced the president's decision.

He said Gov. Togiola Tulafono had requested the declaration for all seven islands of American Samoa.

Details of the declaration, including how much of the island territory it covers, had not yet been received by the governor's office, but it was expected to make low-interest loans and other assistance available to storm victims.

Two fishermen caught in the storm remained missing, but there were no reports of deaths on any of the islands.

Tulafono, who toured the ravaged Manua Islands, was told early yesterday morning by the regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that Bush had approved his request, Alailima said.

While the main island of Tutuila suffered minor damage, the Manua Islands were hit harder.

Heavy damage in Manua occurred in some villages on the island of Ta'u, said Alailima, adding that local and federal authorities were conducting a preliminary damage assessment.

"Almost every house in Fitiuta is destroyed," said Howard Malpepei, a high school teacher in Manua. He said electricity was being restored slowly, with crews flown in from the main island of Tutuila. "Trees were snapped in half and some uprooted," he said.

Manua High School also sustained damage and flooding.

Tulafono directed all government employees on Manua back to work to help in the recovery.

Schools in Manua remained closed yesterday.

The most urgent need was to provide clean water to the island of Ta'u, where there was no electricity to pump water from underground wells and the 100,000-gallon water tank was nearly depleted, Tulafono said.

Polynesian Airlines, owned by the government of neighboring Samoa, filed an emergency application with the U.S. Department of Transportation yesterday to operate flights to Manua temporarily during recovery efforts.

American Samoan officials made the request so they could charter flights to take in emergency relief supplies and personnel and carry out any necessary medical evacuations.

Olaf had gusts of up to 190 mph and sent waves 30 to 40 feet high onto the shores of Ta'u, Ofu and Olosega, the National Weather Service said. The main island of Tutuila had two landslides.

After battering American Samoa on Wednesday, the storm headed southeast and slid past the Cook Islands into open ocean in the South Pacific.

Meanwhile, off the northern coast of Samoa, New Zealand and U.S. search planes continued to hunt for two crewmen from a sunken fishing boat, drifting in open ocean for the past three days.

So far, the planes have located six fishing vessels originally reported missing and four survivors from a Samoan-owned boat that sank, the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Center reported.

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