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American Samoa: A Long-term Recovery Operation
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October 9, 2009
Mine Tupou, 7, sits on the lap of Samoan Red Cross volunteer Luimata Fiapai in the destroyed church of her village. American Samoa.
Mine Tupou, 7, sits on the lap of Samoan Red Cross volunteer Luimata Fiapai in the destroyed church of her village. American Samoa.
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American Red Cross volunteers work with AmeriCorps to set up tents in a heavily damaged area of American Samoa.
American Red Cross volunteers work with AmeriCorps to set up tents in a heavily damaged area of American Samoa.
American Red Cross/ AmeriCorps volunteer Ashley Saverino gives Sharon Sione, 5, a big hug beside the tent Saverino helped set up for the Sione family.
American Red Cross/ AmeriCorps volunteer Ashley Saverino gives Sharon Sione, 5, a big hug beside the tent Saverino helped set up for the Sione family.

Less than a week after the tsunami destroyed or damaged the homes of at least 2,000 families in American Samoa, workers from the American Red Cross began going village to village to assist people who may be without permanent housing for months and without electricity for a year or more.

“The government of American Samoa has identified all of the majorly damaged and destroyed residences with the number of people in those residences, sorted by villages,” reported Barbara Riester on Monday. Riester is the American Red Cross worker in charge of bulk distribution in response to the tsunami.

Deploying additional Red Cross workers and materials to support disaster relief activities half a world away can be a daunting task, especially for a nonprofit organization like the American Red Cross. In the past week, the Red Cross has worked closely to coordinate with its logistics support donors, including FedEx and with FEMA, Air Force and the Coast Guard to facilitate the transportation of Red Cross workers and supplies. That coordination continues as the Red Cross deploys recovery kits and other resources for the ongoing recovery efforts for the residents of American Samoa.

The Red Cross had a stocked warehouse of supplies on the island before the tsunami. Additional relief materials and Red Cross volunteers were flown to American Samoa by the 60th Air Mobile Wing at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. The latest shipment included 500 cases of SPAM canned meat products, 500 50-pound bags of rice and 1,000 cases of Ramen noodles, foods popular with island residents.

Thanks to the support from FEMA Region IX and the 60th Air Mobile Wing, 88 specially trained Red Cross volunteers have traveled to the island to augment the local relief effort. This is in addition to volunteers at the local Red Cross chapter, as well as the many local residents who spontaneously volunteered to help their neighbors. Riester, who is based in San Diego, is one of the Red Cross workers called to American Samoa to assist the Red Cross chapter and its volunteers on the island.

“We’re dealing with 70 villages that were affected, some more heavily damaged than others,” Riester said. “We are sending our people out to those villages in whatever vehicle we have available, from buses to cars.

“Today, we were able to reach two villages—one small, one larger. In the small village, we addressed the needs of two families with a total of 10 people. In the larger village, we helped 15 families with a total of 77 people,” she reported earlier this week.

Based on the number of people in the family, and at no charge, the American Red Cross is providing coolers, cooking kits, tarps, cots, work gloves, flashlights, trash bags and comfort kits.

Each vehicle going to the villages with supplies is followed by a vehicle carrying American Red Cross workers who have been trained in constructing yurts—round tents that can be erected on a family’s land after the American Samoa government has certified that the property has been cleared of debris and has adequate sanitation systems.

“We want to make sure that where the family is setting up the tent is safe,” Riester said.

The tents may be in use for some time. According to Riester, damaged or destroyed homes may take months to replace or repair. Electricity, which is out on half of American Samoa, may require generator assistance for as long as 12 to 24 months.

“You’re talking long term that people here will need assistance,” she said.

Visit the Disaster Online Newsroom to see videos and to read more about the Red Cross response in American Samoa

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.



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