Hawaiian Librarians Aid in Tsunami Recovery in American Samoa

November 11, 2009

A pair of librarians traveled from Hawaii to Pago Pago to help in recovery efforts following the devastating tsunami that struck September 29. Triggered by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, the waves killed 34 people in American Samoa and around 160 in neighboring Samoa and Tonga.

Lynn Davis, head of preservation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Jane Barnwell, director of Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, a Honolulu-based nonprofit corporation that serves schools on 10 United States–connected Pacific islands, were in American Samoa October 14–29 as a recovery task force sponsored by WESTPAS (Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service). Davis explained that a year earlier she had conducted disaster-preparedness workshops for government agencies in Pago Pago, leading to the request to help salvage vital records and other documents in the wake of the tsunami.

The training Davis gave last year, which involved the development of disaster plans, served the agencies well. “People in Samoa were stepping up and taking care of things,” she told American Libraries, immediately freezing the damaged materials to prevent the growth of mold, as they had been trained to do.

Prioritizing protocols

Davis worked with the government agencies—the Development Bank of American Samoa, the American Samoa Power Authority, the High Court of American Samoa, the Territorial Registrar’s Office, and the Jean P. Haydon Museum—to develop protocols to use in writing RFPs and grant requests, and in submitting a budget request for recovery efforts to FEMA. Davis said she learned the importance of such protocols following a 2004 flash flood at the University of Hawaii that destroyed a large portion of the library’s rare map and government documents collection. She warned that the recovery process in Samoa will be lengthy: Five years after the Hawaii flood, hundreds of maps and thousands of aerial photographs are still awaiting conservation treatment.

Davis also met with Governor Togiola Tulafono, whom she said “expressed his great concern for the possible loss of these documents that are an essential part of Samoan culture” and who set up a task force on document recovery.

The tsunami also destroyed four school libraries in American Samoa. The schools are seeking donations of materials to rebuild their collection. Children’s books in new or good condition may be sent to:

Cheryl Morales Polataivao
Feleti Barstow Public Library
P.O. Box 997687
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799


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