Paul McCall of Cambria was asleep at his friend’s home in the village of Taputimu Sept. 29 when the magnitude 8.3 earthquake hit American Samoa and the South Pacific.
“Everything shook,” he said of the quake, although he and friend Ben Albracht discovered later that damage in coastal Taputimu wasn’t nearly as severe as that suffered in nearby Leone or Pago Pago. The small U.S. island territory, which is about 20 miles long, is home to more than 63,000 people.
The two surfing buddies knew immediately that the quake had been a bad one, and that there would be a severe threat of the deadly, high waves called tsunamis.
“We grabbed my wallet and passport, food and water, and we headed for higher ground above the village of Nuulli. We waited it out for about three hours,” McCall told The Tribune earlier this week.
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It was the best thing they could have done, according to quake-tsunami experts, even though they learned later that “the tsunami had already hit the lowlands about 15 minutes after the quake, before we left,” McCall said.
News outlets reported that waves of up to 20 feet high had crashed up to a mile inland. American Samoa’s fatalities numbered more than 30, and much of the island’s infrastructure was flattened and scattered.
Albracht’s home, a guest house on a luxury estate, wasn’t damaged. “We were so lucky,” he said Tuesday. “A quarter mile away from us is devastation.”
Albracht said progress in cleaning up after the massive disaster is slow, although officials “are making progress in big cities, where they’re focusing their efforts. Major, heavy equipment is needed. There aren’t a lot of bulldozers and cranes here, and that’s really what’s necessary to move the major debris and cars. There’s just so much stuff here that can’t be moved by hand.
“The more remote villages are still a wreck. The buildings are still a major danger. And some people are living in the damaged structures.”
Albracht, a teacher for WorldTeach, said, “Our local high school already is starting a clothing drive,” trying to get T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops to those who didn’t have much to begin with and were left with nothing to wear in the hot, humid climate, no possessions and no home.
“There are villages where people literally lost everything,” he said. “They also need food, soap, toiletries, the basics.”
He said he hopes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross will provide those necessities soon.
Once the devastation’s debris is cleared, “then it becomes an issue of rebuilding. Materials here are so scarce.”
The Samoans are wonderful, he said, “They welcome you right into their families.”
The 31-year-old McCall was born in San Luis Obispo, raised on his family’s Santa Rosa Creek farm and is a Coast Union High School graduate.
He’s due back in Cambria by mid-October.