What happened in American Samoa?
On the morning of Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 6:48am American Samoa was struck by a powerful earthquake. Registering a magnitude 8.1 and originating about 150 miles away in the Tongan Trench, it generated the largest tsunami the Samoan Archipelago has seen in recent history. The first wave struck the island only 15 minutes after the earthquake stopped, catching many islanders off-guard.
The National Park of American Samoa headquarters and visitor center were housed in Pago Plaza at the very head of Pago Pago Harbor. The narrowing of the harbor at this point makes it particularly vulnerable to tsunami damage, as water is funneled there. The first floor office included the visitor center with newly installed exhibits, cultural resources storage and the administrative and superintendent's offices. There was a dive locker and two containers in the parking area of Pago Plaza that stored the equipment needed to perform marine, terrestrial and maintenance duties. Most work days begin at 7am, so the earthquake and tsunami caught most employees either at work or on their way.
As employees ran up the mountain across the street from the headquarters, the first wave of water surged into the parking area destroying the fleet and storage facilities located there. The water continued to rise, topping out just below the second floor offices of Pago Plaza. There were four more large waves to follow through the next hour each slightly smaller than the last. Employees were gathered and damage assessed. The first floor offices were completely destroyed.
Villages on every side of the island were affected. Thirty-five people lost their lives. Scores of people lost their homes.