South Pacific Ocean (DR 1859)
Earthquake, Flood, Tsunami - American Samoa
On Tuesday, September 29, 2009, a powerful 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck in the South Pacific Ocean generating a tsunami that swept ashore on American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States located about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. American Samoa is the only U.S. possession in the southern hemisphere; is slightly larger than Washington DC; and is home to 65,000 people. On the same day, September 29, 2009 a major disaster for earthquake, tsunami and flooding was declared for American Samoa thus making federal funding available to individuals and communities impacted by the disaster. FEMA immediately notified and awarded WSP USA Inspection Services the task order to provide the inspection services for DR-1859 AS. A veteran team of WSP USA Inspection Services staff and inspectors with equipment arrived in Pago Pago within 48 hours after the declaration.
The time when the earthquake occurred to the time when the waves hit was approximately 45 minutes. The majority of people who evacuated to safety were the ones who took the earthquake as the initial alert and headed to higher ground. The initial quake was followed by three aftershocks of at least 5.6 magnitude. The tsunami was the primary cause of damage. Four tsunami waves, each 15 to 20 feet high, reached half-mile to mile inland on the main island of Tutuila. In Pago Pago the capital city of the island buildings were demolished and cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning waters. The tsunami created immense and widespread damage to individual, public and commercial buildings in coastal areas. Some coastal villages experienced 100% destruction along with death and injury that left thousands of people homeless.