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Homeland Security

Hawaii Guard deploys after tsunami hits American Samoa

by Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
National Guard Bureau

9/30/2009 - ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- About 90 Hawaii National Guard members aboard two C-17 Globemaster IIIs are on their way to American Samoa this morning to help in the recovery efforts on the Pacific island, National Guard officials here announced Sept. 30.

Two C-17s from the 154th Wing, an associate unit based at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, are currently scheduled to fly to the island Sept. 30, after an 8.4 magnitude earthquake struck the Samoa Islands region on Sept. 29 that resulted in a destructive tsunami with 15 to 20 foot waves impacting the east side of American Samoa.

The rush of water exceeded flood levels about one mile into the island. Buildings suffered damage, and there were 24 casualties on American Samoa, according to local reports.

The only hospital on the island, LBJ Tropical Hospital, has reportedly exceeded maximum capacity.

For that reason, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials asked for the Hawaii National Guard to provide personnel from their civil support team, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enhanced response force package, command and control element, and a mortuary affairs team.

"This support package was requested, put together and deployed in less than 24 hours," said Jack Harrison, the director of communications and public affairs for the National Guard Bureau. "We do this every day. On average, more than a dozen governors every day will call on their National Guard to respond to contingencies that range from severe emergencies, like this, to white powder scares."

These Guard members are expected to perform search and rescue missions, medical triage and treatment, command and control, and hazardous material modeling support to the unified command team.

Mr. Harrison added that they will be self-sustaining for 96 hours, so they don't burden the American Samoa infrastructure.

The Tafuna International Airport was initially closed due to debris on the runways. However, a runway is now open, which will allow military flights to bring in the personnel and equipment from Hawaii.

"The state of Hawaii is assisting Gov. (Togiola) Tulafono in the recovery effort, including medical assistance, communications support and engineers," said Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle.

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