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Guard Joins Other Agencies in American Samoa Effort

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

ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 5, 2009 – The Hawaii National Guard’s medical mission in American Samoa wrapped up over the weekend, but 14 Guardsmen with the state’s civil support team will remain there to conduct joint hazardous-material and damage assessment operations, Guard officials reported today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lisa Bartolome of the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Medical Group shows an American Samoan boy how to make a paper airplane at the Congressional Christian Church of American Samoa in the Fafatiua village, Oct. 2, 2009. The Hawaii Air National Guard provided basic medical care to residents after a tsunami struck the island Sept. 30, 2009. The church, with the help of the government, is serving meals to those in need. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cohen Young

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

An 8.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the Samoa Islands on Sept. 29, causing 15-to-20-foot-high waves to crash inland in the island chain that includes American Samoa, a U.S. possession.

The civil support team has joined with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to form a hazardous materials task force. According to reports, thousands of gallons of fuel oil and other hazardous materials were compromised along harbor storage areas on Pago Pago, presenting a serious health hazard to residents.

Much of the debris on the island is soaked with diesel fuel and other hazardous chemicals, slowing the debris-clearing operations, Guard officials said.

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

Air Force Capt. Nathaniel Duff, a physician assistant with the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing based at Hickam Air Force Base, is a member of the medical team that was on the first C-17 Globemaster III sent to American Samoa on Sept. 30. He sent the following update to his unit Oct. 3:

“Today we pushed about 20 minutes northeast beyond Pago Pago to a small village named Faga’itua. ‘Synched-up’ with two Navy corpsmen from the USS Ingraham, a frigate docked in Pago Pago harbor, as we passed through.

“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. 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.

“Our overall set-up was modeled after an EMEDS emergency-room tent wing: 1st tier – admin tracking patient flow and entry-control point; 2nd tier – small holding area for vitals, finger-stick glucose check and initial history; 3rd tier – for our nursing and ENT (Otolaryngology Clinic) staff performing basic physical exams, EKG, etc.; and 4th tier – myself and the Navy corpsmen floating between the four beds dealing with more emergent issues and performing medical procedures.

“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. I'm pretty tired … but at last count I believe we treated approximately 165 patients in about seven hours. Capt. (Jason) Iyomasa and Gloria even had a chance to lead an ‘away team’ to a local village to provide bedside care to a homebound elderly lady.

“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.

“Even though conditions have been very hazardous, only one of our team sustained a minor puncture wound injury to his foot.

“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.

“Leadership has informed us to initiate cleaning/inventory, packing and palletizing our gear with a possible departure date in the near future.”

(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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Related Sites:
National Guard Bureau
Hawaii National Guard
Special Report: Disaster Strikes

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