Bay Area groups organize aid for American Samoans

While the tsunami advisory for the California coastline turned out to be a “non-event,” emergency responders and local Samoan community groups are busy coordinating assistance for American Samoans affected by Tuesday's deadly tsunami.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a “war room” in its regional office in Oakland, spokeswoman Kelly Hudson said.

Representatives from a variety of federal agencies are coordinating their response to the roughly 8.0-magnitude underwater earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Samoan Islands. American Samoa, a U.S. territory roughly halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, has reported flooding, fatalities and major damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Hawaii is serving as the “staging area” for disaster-response and emergency medical teams dispatched from the West Coast, she said. President Obama on Tuesday night declared a major disaster in American Samoa.

“Our largest goal right now is to get the experts there and follow that up with resources,” she said.

The Samoan Community Development Center in San Francisco received many calls Tuesday from people asking where they could donate and how they could help, center director Patsy Tito said.

The center is coordinating donations with Samoan churches in the area, Tito said. Contributions of clothing or money can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the center, located at 2055 Sunnydale Ave. in San Francisco. The center may stay open this weekend to receive donations, she said.

Tito said the center is setting up a fund for financial contributions, and that clothing donations are especially welcome.

“A lot of them will be displaced from their homes, and the water probably washed a lot of it away,” she said.

Members of San Francisco's Samoan community are having difficulty contacting family members back home, Tito said. The disaster has wiped out phone lines and Internet service, leaving stateside Samoans to rely on news reports for information.

Tito's mother managed to make contact with her aunt in American Samoa Tuesday before she headed to higher ground, she said.

Tito estimated that about 10,000 natives of Samoa and American Samoa live in San Francisco. “Virtually everyone” has family members who were affected, she said.

“You see it on TV with other countries and other islands, but when it hits your own, it really hits home,” she said.

American Samoa is slightly larger than Washington, DC, and has a population of nearly 66,000 according to the CIA's World Factbook.

A Tuesday night tsunami advisory issued for the California coast was “pretty much a non-event,” National Weather Service spokesman Rick Canepa said. Computer modeling had indicated the tsunami could have generated high waves along local shores overnight.

Sea levels along the Bay Area coastline rose about half a foot but no local damage was reported, Canepa said.

– Bay City News
 

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