Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hawaii Guard Deploys for Tsunami Relief

By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va. - About 90 Hawaii National Guard members are on their way to American Samoa today to help in the recovery efforts on the Pacific island, National Guard officials announced.

An 8.4 magnitude earthquake struck the Samoa Islands region yesterday, causing a destructive tsunami with 15-to-20-foot waves striking the east side of American Samoa.

Flood levels were exceeded about one mile into the island. Local reports said 24 people were killed on American Samoa, and that buildings were damaged. The only hospital on the island, LBJ Tropical Hospital, reportedly has exceeded its maximum capacity.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials asked the Hawaii National Guard to provide personnel from its civil support team, as well as its enhanced chemical and biological response force package, a 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, 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 materials modeling support to the unified command team, he added.

Harrison said the deploying Guard members will be self-sustaining for 96 hours so they don't burden the American Samoa infrastructure.

The Tafuna International Airport initially was 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.

Two C-17 Globemaster III transport jets from the 154th Wing, a reserve associate unit based in Hawaii, are scheduled to fly to the island today.

"The state of Hawaii is assisting Gov. [Togiola] Tulafono in the recovery effort, including medical assistance, communications support and engineers," Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle said in a statement yesterday.

In 2006, CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the Hawaii National Guard airlifted supplies from Oahu to isolated residents on Maui after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the Hawaiian Islands in October.