By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
CARSON.—“It’s terrible,” said Florence Pou, at the offices of the Samoan Federation of America. “There have been hurricanes, but this is the first time there was an earthquake and tsunami.”
Among Carson’s tight-knit Samoan community, news of Tuesday’s 8.0 earthquake has hit particularly close to home. At the Samoan Federation, a phone bank has been set up to provide information and handle inquiries from the media. They are also gathering relief supplies to send to the South Pacific islands.
“We’re trying to do relief to send back medical supplies,” said Pou, secretary of the federation. “We pray to God that the numbers (of casualties) stop.”
Pou said she found out that an aunt had been among the victims and they have heard from others who have not been able to contact family members in the devastated areas. High Chief Loa Pele Faletogo, president of the Samoan Federation of America, has been meeting with religious leaders to discuss aid for victims.
The quake was centered about 120 miles south of the islands of Samoa, which has about 220,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000. At least 119 people have died.
Another strong underwater earthquake rocked western Indonesia on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Samoan quake, briefly triggering a tsunami alert for countries along the Indian Ocean. The 7.6-magnitude quake toppled buildings, cut power and triggered a landslide on Sumatra island, and at least 75 people were reported killed. Experts said the seismic events were not related.
The Samoan capital, Apia, was virtually deserted by afternoon, with schools and businesses closed. Hours after the waves struck, sirens rang out with another tsunami alert and panicked residents headed for higher ground again, although there was no indication of a new quake.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for American Samoa, adding that he and his wife, Michelle, “will keep those who have lost so much in our thoughts and prayers.”
Assemblymember Warren Furutani, whose district includes Carson, said he had met with leaders in the Samoan community to discuss coordinating disaster relief.
“We’re waiting to see how the Assembly and Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus can help out our Samoan sisters and brothers,” said Furutani. “It’s terrible to hear about the devastation that took place in the Samoan islands. We will be mobilizing in the 55th Assmebly district and in the state for our friends in the islands.”
On Wednesday at the Samoan Congregational Christian Church of South Los Angeles, about 75 members of the church offered prayers for family in Samoa and America Samoa. The church is also collecting donations to be distributed to the earthquake victims. Mayor Jim Dear and Councilmember Elito M. Santarina joined the congregants and offered their support.
“The connection between Carson and Samoa is very strong, we recognize that and we act on that,” said Dear.
To contact the Samoa Federation of America, call (310)834-6403 or visit www.samoafederation.org, to contact the Samoan Congregational Christian Church of South Los Angeles, e-mail [email protected]
—Associated Press contributed to this report.