This is an anxious time for those in the South Sound’s large, close-knit Samoan and Pacific Islander community. That won’t change until they are able to make contact with friends and loved ones on islands devastated by Tuesday’s killer tsunami.
Many islanders died when four tsunami waves – each 15 to 20 feet high – struck about 20 minutes after an 8.0- to 8.3-magnitude earthquake south of the Samoan Islands. That’s the strongest earthquake to strike the world in the last two years.
Reports of casualties are flooding in from Samoa, the American Samoa territory and Tonga. At this writing, the death toll is 119 and expected to rise.
Relief organizations racing to help the islanders are being stretched thin by two other Pacific Rim disasters: a typhoon that has ravaged the Philippines and an earthquake in Indonesia. They need Americans to show their concern in a tangible way – through their donations (see box). The Samoan disaster is expected to require weeks of relief aid, complicated by the distance from the United States – 2,300 miles from Hawaii, 4,500 miles from the West Coast.
For those of us in the Northwest, the tsunami tragedy hits particularly close to home – and not just because of the kinship ties. Tsunamis have historically struck the Washington and Oregon coasts after strong earthquakes. It’s only a matter of time – and the unstoppable grind of tectonic plates – before it happens again.
What happened to the Samoan Islands will happen here. This region must prepare by educating the public on what to do and where to go, ensuring that escape routes are well-marked and accessible, and having good tsunami warning systems in place.
Many Samoans in coastal areas escaped death by heading upland immediately after feeling quake tremors Tuesday morning. Coastal Northwesterners, take note.
How to help
Donate to reputable relief organizations such as Federal Way’s World Vision, the American Red Cross and AmeriCares. To check out a charity, go to www.charitynavigator.org.