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Homeland Security

Hawaii Guard medical team returns, civil support team stays in American Samoa

by Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
National Guard Bureau

10/5/2009 - ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- The Hawaii National Guard's medical mission wrapped up Oct. 4, but 14 personnel with the state's civil support team will remain on American Samoa to conduct joint hazardous material and damage assessment operations, Guard officials reported Oct. 5.

The civil support team has teamed up with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to form a HAZMAT task force.

Thousands of gallons of fuel oil and other hazardous materials were compromised along harbor storage areas on Pago Pago, which presents a serious health hazard to residents, according to reports. Much of the debris on the island is soaked with diesel and other hazardous chemicals, which is slowing the debris-clearing operations, Guard officials said.

On their first day on Pago Pago Oct. 2, the medical team processed 117 patients and treated more than 70 injuries. Hawaii Guard members also convoyed to a local village to support search and rescue operations. They performed more than 700 man-hours to the search and rescue effort on that first day.

Capt. Nathaniel Duff, a physician assistant with the 154th Wing of the Hawaii Air National Guard based at Hickam Air Force Base, is a member of the medical team embedded with the chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear and explosives enhanced response force package that was on the first C-17 Globemaster III sent to American Samoa Sept. 30.

"(On Oct. 3) we pushed about 20 minutes northeast beyond Pago Pago to a small village named Faga'itua and 'synched-up' with two Navy corpsmen from the USS Ingraham, a frigate docked in Pago Pago harbor, as we passed through," Captain Duff said. "Pago Pago is the capital city of American Samoa and appeared to have firmly shifted into recovery mode. The Starkist tuna factory in the bay appeared half functional, although the dead fish smell was horrible, the port facilities were a mess and there were still several boats in the city streets.

"We arrived in Faga'itua by 9:30 a.m., and there were already about 40 villagers waiting for us," the captain said. "By 10 a.m., our entire medical footprint was unpacked from the CERFP trailer and deployed in the open-air village church. This provided us with a fully functional, four-bed triage and first-aid station with a limited urgent care medical formulary. We held an impromptu spiritual moment in prayer with the villagers presided by the church pastor. The villagers unexpectedly began singing a beautiful and emotional Christian hymn that left a good portion of us in tears. It was incredibly moving and inspirational for us to begin our work. From that moment, our team was in nonstop motion until sunset. At last count I believe we treated approximately 165 patients in about seven hours.

"We deployed four of our medics to support the CERFP search and extraction team in western American Samoa, who were still tasked with locating missing children, Captain Duff said. "With FEMA, CST, Coast Guard and Public Health service on the ground and fully operational, it appears that our first-response mission is rapidly coming to an end."

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