Constituents roll out Samoa tsunami aid

Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) and Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) have teamed up to send 90,000 pounds of tsunami relief to Samoa.

The Independent State of Samoa, as well as U.S. protectorate American Samoa, were devastated by the tsunami, which killed nearly 200 people two weeks ago.

ADVERTISEMENT
Thousands of people were left homeless and without food, water and electricity in a disaster largely overshadowed on Capitol Hill by U.S. military developments in Afghanistan and the healthcare reform debate.

But aid and attention poured out from local communities, such as the one centered around a Samoan church in Richardson’s district. Many of the congresswoman’s constituents have relatives in Samoa.
More than 60 organizations in Richardson’s district collected about 180,000 pounds of food, medical supplies and other “essential items” over the past two weeks, according to her office.

Following requests by Faleomavaega and Richardson, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton approved the use of funds from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to pay for a cargo plane to airlift about 90,000 pounds of supplies, roughly half the collected amount, to the devastated region.

“The agreement is that this will be a one-time airlift, and our Samoan communities should make future donations in cash, rather than in commodities,” said Richardson and Faleomavaega in a joint statement.

The islands of American Samoa and Samoa were battered on Sept. 29 after an earthquake triggered 20-foot towering walls of water that crashed upon the Samoan shores in a matter of minutes.

The waves ripped through houses and businesses, throwing surrounding vehicles and boats through any structures left standing, according to local news reports. President Barack Obama declared American Samoa a major disaster zone soon afterward.

Within 48 hours, two Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams were shipped to American Samoa by military aircraft, where they joined members of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Hawaii National Guard in their disaster recovery efforts.

While FEMA handles emergency relief for the U.S. and its territories, the State Department and USAID are responsible for any aid that the U.S. sends to foreign nations, such as Samoa.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The lives of thousands of Samoans will be immediately and directly improved by the actions taken by … all of us who answered the call to help,” Richardson said in a statement. “I am proud to be a part of this exceptional team.”

Richardson and Faleomavaega said that by smoothly gaining the financial and logistical support of Clinton, the administration was showing signs of responding to crises in an efficient manner.

“It is clear that change has come and that Secretary Clinton is restoring America’s stature once again, especially in a part of the world that the U.S. has too long neglected,” said Richardson and Faleomavaega in a joint statement.