EAS Trigger Saved Lives in Samoa Tsunami
September 30, 2009
PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA: In the South Pacific, assessments are still being
made as to the loss of life and property in both the Independent State of Samoa
and the U.S. territory of American Samoa after yesterday’s tsunami. (The harbor at Pago Pago is shown at left.)
The waves were sparked by an underwater earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter
scale. As of this morning, more than 100 deaths have been confirmed in the
Samoas and in Tongo, according to newspaper reports from the region. Initially,
areas as far away as Hawai’i, New Zealand and even the Southern California
coast, were placed under tsunami watches and warnings, but damage seems to be
limited mostly to the two Samoas and Tongo.
A report on the tsunami from Joey Cummings of KKHJ-FM in Pago Pago, American
Samoa, was picked up by the BBC World Service
and detailed the arrival of the 10-foot wave that washed over the Pago Harbor
area where KKHJ is based.
“Our building, Pago Plaza, is located in the middle of the harbor, practically
at sea level. We stayed on the air as the water reached three or four feet in
the parking lot. The water stayed at that level for a few minutes, but then it
surged to around 15 feet. Trees, cars, buses, boats all rushed by in a river of
mud just outside my window. I actually saw that my own car--a new VW Beetle--was
surprisingly buoyant when floating on its roof. We continued broadcasting for
the next 5 to 10 minutes, until the batteries on our backup power system died,”
Later yesterday afternoon, Cummings said the staff was able to get the station
back on air with help from a borrowed generator. The stations main generator
was underwater, but its mountaintop transmission site was unharmed.
Cummings has uploaded video of the aftermath in Pago Pago to http://www.joeycummings.com/client/SSB/.
KKHJ is the primary station in the American Samoa Emergency Alert System chain.
Cummings wrote that two EAS alerts were triggered by the station--one after the
earthquake hit and a second 10 minutes later when the water in Pago Harbor
started to rise.
On March 19, 2009, an earthquake off the Tonga islands triggered a tsunami
warning for American Samoa. Although no tsunami was generated and the warning
was rescinded, the government of the territory noted problems in the emergency
response. Among the calls to action were for KKHJ and KULA-LP, the secondary
station, to ensure that the triggers for the alerting system were cascading
properly to downstream stations.
During the Sept. 29 tsunami, the EAS system worked as it should.
Kirk Harnack, director of international business development for Telos Systems
and vice president of engineering for South Seas Broadcasting Inc., owner of
KKHJ, posted to his Facebook page a letter from KNWJ-FM, Showers of Blessings
Radio in Leone, American Samoa, crediting the successful EAS alerts with saving
“The pastor from the village of Amanave called Showers of Blessings today and
gave this testimony: 10 minutes after the earthquake, they got the EAS warning
from FM104 [KNWJ]. This allowed the pastor to ring the church bell and warn
everyone to run to the hills 10 minutes before the tsunami hit.” -- T. Carter Ross
(image by Gregory Melle)
More coverage of the tsunami:
September 29, 2009: “Tsunami Hits American
“We were able to air the tsunami warning several times before it hit. Power
went off shortly thereafter. The generator for the studio is in the parking
lot, which is under 15 feet of water, so we're now off air until we figure out
an alternate power source. Our staff is all accounted for. Many of our
automobiles are not.”