Lolo asks feds to help evacuating US citizens stranded in Samoa
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has requested the federal government’s assistance in coordinating the evacuation of US citizens stranded in Samoa to travel via Pago Pago and connect directly with a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu, without having to be quarantined in the territory.
The governor’s request was outlined in a Mar. 22nd letter to US Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt.
Lolo explained that he has “again, been compelled to lend a hand in the effort to evacuate Americans who are stranded in Samoa,” whose government, without any pre-warning closed its borders for any flights” other than those from New Zealand. (Samoa News notes that Samoa made a second amendment, early this week, to its original emergency declaration closing off all international flights including New Zealand.)
Lolo said that Samoa’s sudden border closing has prompted US citizens to fly to Samoa — from New Zealand — hoping that they would hop over to American Samoa and catch the Hawaiian Airlines flight to Hawaii.
However, the governor explained that he has been informed by Hawaiian that all Monday flights in and out of Pago Pago are suspended until the coronavirus situation in Hawaii improves. Furthermore, Hawaii Gov. David Ige has issued new restrictions requiring all arrivals in Hawa’ii to go through a 14-day home quarantine.
According to the governor, the US Embassy in Samoa requested the Samoa government to allow US citizens to travel to American Samoa and “I again am subjecting the lives of American Samoa residents to great peril by granting entry [to] US citizens akin [to] my permitting the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship to enter our harbor” early this month to refuel.
Lolo reminded Bernhardt that American Samoa “currently cannot test [COVID-19] and we are awaiting supplies of swabs” from the US Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) to “allow us to collect specimens to be sent to Atlanta for analysis.”
Thus, “we have no way to test US citizens traveling from Samoa, transiting to Hawaii and then onward” to the US mainland, he said.
To “limit the risk of exposure to our people,” Lolo requested assistance in the co-ordination of the evacuation of US citizens stranded in Samoa to coincide with a Hawaiian regular or special flight to facilitate the direct transfer of passengers from Samoa Airways to Hawaiian on “the tarmac to avoid having to go the terminal.”
He also requested Bernhardt to “urge” the US State Department to “coordinate travel arrangements directly with Hawaiian Airlines to determine whether a special flight is needed.”
“American Samoa lacks sufficient quarantine facilities to isolate these US citizens if they come over earlier to await the Thursday’s Hawaiian Airlines flight,” Lolo wrote and thanked Bernhardt “for any coordination accorded to this request aimed to limit the risk exposure to our residents.”
During a cabinet meeting on Monday, the governor — who participated via teleconference call while quarantine at his Maugaoali’i home — said that he has been asked to assist in this matter and has communicated with federal authorities and Hawaiian.
At last count there were 43 US citizens needing to be evacuated out of Samoa, according to the Governor’s Office, and that number could increase.
SAMOA AIRWAYS FLIGHTS
The government of Samoa, under an emergency declaration, issued Mar. 21 (in Samoa) that has since been amended twice, suspended all flights between the two Samoas resulting in local residents being stranded in Apia.
Samoa Airways local station manager Toe Loia told Samoa News yesterday morning that the Samoa-government owned airline, operated six special flights on Monday and six more were planned yesterday to uplift stranded US passport holders and local residents from Apia to Pago Pago.
The flights cannot take back any passengers to Apia, according to the Samoa government’s order.
Based on information received by Samoa News yesterday, these stranded passengers from Apia are a mix of local legal residents, US nationals living here and US citizens — some of whom came from the US and had traveled to Apia via Pago Pago.
It’s unclear at press time the specific number of US citizens on these passenger- flights that will be heading to the US.
Upon arrival at the Pago Pago International Airport the passengers were loaded on to schools buses that took them to two newly designated quarantine facilities — a building at the Kanana Fou compound and the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs separated-area. A police car escorted the school bus heading to Pago Pago.
DWYA, which is also the Pago Pago Youth Center, has bathroom facilities and a large open area on the ground floor.
The arrivals Monday include a group of 10 church ministers and their spouses from the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa.
Under the Health Department’s revised travel advisory dated Mar. 23rd, all flight- passengers from Samoa are subject to a full 14-day quarantine.