- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A team of U.S. first-responders is speeding to American Samoa aboard a Coast Guard plane to help with the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 119 people in the South Pacific region, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday.

Residents of the South Pacific island also are receiving prepackaged supplies from a distribution center in Hawaii, a roughly six-hour flight.

The quake, with a magnitude of from 8.0 to 8.3, struck at about dawn Tuesday and was followed by a set of two-story waves that flattened villages and heavily damaged the American Samoa capital city of Pago Pago.

The FEMA team will join National Guardsmen who will assist in rescue-and-recover efforts — including restoring power and cleaning up the heavily damaged southern part of island, which is coated in mud and filled with debris, including boats and overturned cars.

Fresh water lines have been damaged, and the island’s main power station is down, so residents could be without electricity for a month, Samoa News reported.

The quake was centered about 120 miles south of Samoa and American Samoa, a U.S. territory.

Officials earlier Wednesday reported roughly 30 dead in American Samoa and 69 dead in Samoa. The Tongan government reports 10 residents were killed on the nearby island of Niuatoputatu.

Beyond the rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts, the aftermath will include a look at the U.S. government’s early warning system for tsunamis.

The government made a significant investment in tsunami detection and warning systems after one in 2004 that killed nearly 300,000 people in Indonesia, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency is responsible for a network of tide and seismic stations, including 39 tsunami buoys around the world. In addition, the agency now has Tsunami Warning Centers in Alaska and Hawaii.

Federal officials have not responded to calls or e-mails about warnings on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, the territory’s delegate in Congress, was unavailable Wednesday because he is returning home on a flight he boarded the night before at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. A staffer said Mr. Faleomavaega is expected to arrive at about noon local time, or 6 p.m. EST.

Roughly 85 guardsmen are preparing to depart from Hawaii and will be in American Samoa within the next 24 hours, National Guard spokesman Walter Debany said Wednesday.

He said the team, from the Hawaii National Guard’s 154th Airlift Wing, will arrive in two or three C-17 cargo planes and will help local officials with such specialized duties as communications and hazardous materials.

“This is not an ad hoc effort,” he said. “This is what they’ve trained for. They are well trained.”

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