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American Samoa experiencing massive coastal flooding

Surf over the road near Laulii
Is this the effect of climate change?

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Pago Pago International Airport has been shutdown and the Hawaiian Airlines flight scheduled for Thursday night canceled, as the runway is closed due to damage from heavy waves.

A statement issued by Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga says that “all government offices are closed, and normal activities were suspended as of 1 PM on Thursday, July 14, 2022 due to severe weather conditions resulting in damage to roads, infrastructure, property, and coastal villages, I have declared that American Samoa is in a State of Emergency.

“Furthermore, the International Airport will remain closed due to damage to the runway. The Hawaiian Airlines flight scheduled for July 14, 2022, has also been canceled and will resume as soon as the runway can reopen safely.

 “Employees of the American Samoa Government who are not required to perform essential services shall be excused from their duties. Employees required to perform duties during this emergency will receive wages in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

The Government says the Emergency Operations Center has been activated and will be standing by to assist the public at (684) 699-3800/ 782-4059.

[photo: faaTalanoa Media]

Traffic moved at a turtle’s pace or halted completely for several hours yesterday morning due to strong winds and waves, some reaching the main road in a few areas of Tutuila island creating hazardous conditions for drivers.

Seen here is the road along Fatu-ma-Futi, which was one of the worst areas hit by waves, causing government workers to close one lane of the road at a time in order to clear out debris.

According to the National Weather Service, the weather was attributed to a large southerly swell generated by storms near New Zealand as well as strong trade winds generated by a strengthening high pressure system to the southeast of the area. An announcement from the Emergency Operations Center stated that airport was expected to be closed until 4 p.m on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, due to debris and ocean surges washing up onto the runway, while Auasi wharf was also closed until further notice.

In a memo yesterday, Governor Lemanu declared American Samoa in a State of Emergency and ordered the closure of ASG offices at 1 p.m.  Hawaiian Airlines flight was also canceled due to damage from heavy waves to the runway, according to the Governor's memo.

EOC advised the public to stay off beaches and coastline due to hazardous wave conditions. As of Thursday afternoon, Tutuila was under high surf warning, wind and small craft advisories.

Meanwhile the roads near the coastline are littered with debris and huge rocks, while in Alega there is a certain part of the road that eroded due to the strong and high waves, and the foundation exposed as a result.

In Fatu-ma-Futi yesterday morning, traffic had to be diverted as waves made it onto the road.

The main road in Fagaalu was blocked by police officers early yesterday morning because the road at Fatu-ma-Futi was unsafe for vehicles. High waves were seen at the Fatu-ma-Futi  area and the road was covered with rocks, debris and pools of water due to coastal flooding from the surf. [photo AF]

Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata also issued a statement regarding the high wave damages and flooding in American Samoa.

 “I am praying for the people of our territory, from Tutuila and Aunu’u to Manu’a, who have been impacted by the coastal flooding that occurred throughout the past day.

 “I hope that the damage has been limited, and I will do all I can to support our people, especially those living in coastal villages.”

Adding that this is yet another reason why there should be improvements of infrastructure against climate change and natural disasters.

 “And I will continue to push for more federal funding to do just that. In the meantime, I urge everyone to be safe and follow safety instructions.

 “I stand ready to assist in any way I can from the federal level,” said Amata.

Reports out of Aunu’u say that the power plant was damaged and that electricity was out, however emails to the American Samoa Power Authority Director Wallon Young, were not answered as of press time.

The Emergency Operations Center in its latest weather update issued yesterday afternoon confirmed widespread reports of coastal flooding along south, east, and west facing shores of Tutuila, Aunu’u, and Manu’a.

 “Even with the king tides ending yesterday around 1 PM, extremely high surfs due to large southerly swells continues to impact our shores.

 “These large swells are forecast to remain through the weekend. However, warning levels will subside to advisory levels by at least Saturday.

 “A high pressure system to the southeast will continue to generate windy conditions of 25 to 35 mph easterlies with higher gusts over the weekend. Another high pressure system building from behind may prolong this pattern through the new week.

 “However, we will continue to monitor how later trends play out. Expect showers embedded within the trade wind flow to remain through the new week.”

Furthermore, a High Surf Warning remains in effect as surf up to 25 feet or greater has been observed since early in the morning and the public can expect ocean water sweeping across beaches, very strong breaking waves, strong and potentially deadly rip currents. Significant coastal erosion is also likely.

 “Large waves may bring ocean debris onto roadways and will impact small harbors, making navigating the harbor channel dangerous. Precautionary/ Preparedness Actions: Large, breaking surf, significant shore break, coastal erosion, and dangerous currents will make entering the water very hazardous. Anyone entering the water could face significant injury or death.”