American Samoa, after the tsunami - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

American Samoa, after the tsunami

Malia Chanel-Benjamin Malia Chanel-Benjamin
Stella Wong Stella Wong

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

Honolulu (Hawaii News Now) - It's been four months since the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the Samoan Island chain. There is still plenty left to rebuild and not enough money to do it quickly. This as millions of dollars is being raised for Haiti. So what makes a disaster in another country more important than one on an American territory?

Villages were flattened in American Samoa, like they were in Haiti. But the magnitude, geography and death toll are big reasons why Haiti got so much attention, even though plenty of people in Samoa are still sleeping in tents.

The pleas are obvious. A homemade flag in a yard in American Samoa reads 'we need help'.

"They're still waiting, and they're living in FEMA tents. It's very sad," said Malia Chanel-Benjamin. 

Chanel-Benjamin now lives in Hawaii but was born in American Samoa and raised in Western Samoa. She just visited both countries and shared her video and pictures. The children tugged at her heart the most. 

"You can see they don't have slippers, their stick is their toy," Chanel-Benjamin said as she looked at a photo she took of a young girl and boy about three and five years old.

When the tsunami came in plenty of graves came up unearthed by the water including two plots right next to where her dad is buried. Four months later they still just sit with tarps over them.

"I think there is a process to identify if the bodies do belong in the graves that they were put back in," said Chanel-Benjamin.

Then of course there are the homes and buildings. When we were there in early October entire villages were damaged or destroyed. 

"There are a lot of buildings that are still standing that I hope no one is going in those buildings because they don't look like they're safe," said Chanel-Benjamin. "I'm surprised a lot of the damage is still there having American protection. I don't know why the damages are still there."

American Samoa is a United States territory. Haiti is not. Yet so much attention is focused on Haiti, from celebrities holding a telethon, to text message fundraisers that raised millions of dollars in record time.

"It's just a matter of who makes the plea and how many people make the plea. If the media plays into it, if the celebrities play into it the money will be raised." Stella Wong, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Vice President Programs.

The American Red Cross texting campaign has brought in $31 million for Haiti.

"I guess Haiti is just a different animal," said Coralie Matayoshi, American Red Cross, Hawaii Chapter CEO.

Matayoshi says the Red Cross raised $1.5 million for American Samoa which was what it needed.

"We did what we were supposed to do as far as immediate emergency needs as far as food, clothing and shelter," said Matayoshi.

"I think it was just someone thought of it when Haiti happened and they used it. Could they have used it in Samoa? Sure but I'm sure it wasn't something somebody thought of at that time," said Wong.

Fewer than 200 people died in the Samoa tsunami versus potentially 200,000 deaths in Haiti, so the magnitude is much different. Another difference is population size. American Samoa has 65,000 people versus nearly 10 million in Haiti.

"It's hard to say, it's really hard to say why one disaster got more publicity than another," said Wong.

Despite the lack of worldwide attention in American Samoa, there are signs of progress. Some homes and buildings have started to be rebuilt.

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