2 Oct 2009

American Samoa relief effort shifts to restoring power

3:52 pm on 2 October 2009

In American Samoa, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says relief efforts have shifted from providing basic necessities to restoring the territory's electricity.

At least 31 people died in the tsunami disaster in the US territory, and the search is continuing for bodies in the rubble.

About 169 people are injured, several of whom are still in a serious condition in hospital.

FEMA, which is coordinating the relief response has about 50 people working alongside local officials.

A spokesperson, Kim Walz, says assistance immediately after the event focused on providing food, beds and medical supplies.

But she says the need for commodities has eased and generators are what are needed now.

"'We have several on the way, several are already there. We're talking some major generators for schools and for hospitals and where it's needed. The important thing and a priority of the government there has been to request our help in getting the power back up so that's their priority now. Their needs are being met as far as shelter and food and water so that's very very good news."

Homeland Security says water and power have been restored in the west, but are still out in parts of the eastern district.

A power plant in the east of the main island, Tutuila, is likely to be out of action for at least a month.

Sione Lousiale Kava, the petroleum officer for the American Samoa government, says there is enough fuel to last 20 days, and another shipment is due early next week.

He says the fuel facilities are fine, but nearby villages are destroyed and parts of Tutuila look like a war zone.

Some villages are gone, I mean, you talk about villages that had elementary schools, and early childhood development schools, they're gone. Either the fish [are] enjoying the luxury of the facilities or the structures are no longer fit for people to live in.

And some people are reportedly still too afraid to leave the safety of higher ground, following the tsunami.

Our correspondent Fili Sagapolutele says almost 1,900 people are staying in eight government-run shelters and rumours of more tsunamis have been circulating.

People just don't want to take the risk at this point and then having to go through all that scariness I guess if we could call it that way. And then last night there were reports of an earthquake off in Tonga and that kind of signalled another panic but government officials are immediately trying to inform the public that there's no information of another tsunami coming in the region so things will hopefully start improving at this point.

Fili Sagapolutele also says the police in American Samoa are reported to have arrested several people for looting carried out immediately after this week's tsunami and earthquake.

She says widepsread looting in the central business district began as soon as the waves had receded.

A business centre called Pago Plaza which housed a variety of businesses, the first floor was completely looted by people, we received word from one of the store owners where their safe was stolen from inside their office, other places at Pago Plaza, chairs were taken, DVDs were stolen. According to the owner of the Pago Plaza people took off with anything that was not nailed down.

Fili Sagapolutele says many damaged offices in the CBD have now boarded up their doors and windows and the looting has subsided.