Day 7:Field Report
We’ve become acclimated to life in Alega. The sound of the waves is wonderful to sleep too – although people who experienced the tsunami find it traumatic and few people have returned to living in the harder hit coastal communities even if their home wasn’t damaged.
Post event surveys are a mix of meetings, field work, interviews, dealing with set backs, and logistical planning. This morning was spent dealing with our travel plans to Samoa and getting and official ok from the Samoan government to work there. Flying from Pago Pago to Apia (a 30 minute flight) is not something you can just book online. We spent much of the morning at the airport afrranging the flight schedules for 5 people with 4 different itineraries. There are 3 carriers – one that has 5 flights a day but evidently just went out of business – their office is dark and they don’t return calls. One with pressurized cabins, AC and “large” planes that carry 30 people but they have run out of fuel and aren’t flying for the next 2 days. And finally Polynesian Air which has flying culverts but is still in business and has fuel. Apparent success – we’ll find out for sure tomorrow.
More logistics – calls to the director of the International Tsunami Information Center – aNOAA funded organization that now works through UNESCO to coordinate tsunami preparedness efforts throughout the world. For the first time, UNESCO has developed a protocol for visiting scientific teams responding to the Samoa tsunami event. It’s important for reconnaissance teams to collaborate with in-country scientists and other researchers and government officials. Over 60 international researchers have visited Samoa since the tsunami including teams from Japan, the US, Australia and New Zealand. A team from Cambridge, England is due to arrive the day I leave. Coordination is also important to avoid duplication of efforts and build on the findings of other groups.UNESCO is also committed to making sure that these teams share their information with the host country so that they benefit from the research teams’ efforts. Some groups in both this and past events have operated outside of government sanction – partly because of the need to quickly get perishable information, and sometimes because the official route can be cumbersome. In 1998 after the Papua New Guinea tsunami, I was all set to leave with a group of 5 international scientists when the PNGgovernment pulled our permission 24 hours before the plane left. It took a month to solve the problem and in the end only 2 of us were able to go. I think we’ve got our bases covered this time, but one never knows.
We spent the afternoon looking at the hardest hit areas on the western end of the island and talking to survivors. Don Vargo of American Samoa Community College provided a Ford Tundra capable of making it over the steep roads and two research assistants to drive and provide translation. First to Paloa on the NW tip of the island where only one home in the coastal portion of the village survived without damage and one person died. The earthquake occurred around 6:40 AM and children were just leaving their homes to go to school. One mother tried to get her kids into a car when she saw the water withdraw. The coastal road parallels the coast and driving would have increased their exposure. Fortunately the oldest child had studied about tsunamis and insisted they run up the hill behind their house.