Earthquake, Tsunami & National Emergency Grant Program

In May 2009, when government officials learned the Chicken of the Sea (COS) cannery was scheduled to close permanently, they began exploring ways to help over 2,000 workers transition to new jobs. Options were few. The cannery was the second largest private-sector employer on the island and the third largest employer overall, just behind the American Samoan Government.

Department of Human Resources (DHR) staff, under the direction of Director Evelyn Vaitautolu-Langford, assembled a request to the US Department of Labor for a National Emergency Grant to aid COS workers who, in the wake of the plant closure, would need to transition to new jobs, training, or alternative careers. The request was approved and the Department was gearing up to provide services.

The day before the plant was due to close – on September 29, 2012 – the tsunami struck.

Panic-stricken Chicken of the Sea employees streamed out of the cannery toward the nearest evacuation route. They never returned. The plant was swamped by the ensuing series of waves. Successive walls of water measuring over 55 feet – approximately five stories – slammed key villages including Amanave, Leone, Pago Pago, and Paloa.

Dozens of coastal homes, seacrafts, businesses, parks, and developments were lost, including much of Pago Plaza, home to many federal agencies and professional service firms, as well as a favorite concession stand irreverently called Don’t Drink the Water (DDW).

The remaining cannery (StarKist) and major coastal landmarks sustained significant damage still visible three years later.

The human toll was just as great. Thirty-four deaths, hundreds injured, and hours spent searching for lost loved ones. The tragedy remains close to the surface for many survivors, as our team – story gatherers and researchers alike – found in talking with residents about their experiences. Many recalled in vivid terms running to the shore to help neighbors and friends. Others relayed stories of frantic searches for children and loved ones or calls from the US mainland asking for help checking on parents and grandparents.

The combination of the global recession that took hold in 2008, the closure of the COS Samoa, and the disastrous September 29th earthquake and tsunami resulted in the loss of one of every five jobs in American Samoa in one year.[1]

American Samoa needed help – emergency medical care, shelter, food, and, crucially, a path to progress. This response and subsequent transition is exactly what the National Emergency Disaster Grant program was designed to support. Initially, USDOL released $8,285,870 to create temporary jobs for eligible dislocated workers to assist in the territory’s cleanup and recovery efforts.

Phase I: Temporary Employment

The first phase of the NEG disaster grant program focuses on recovery, providing support for temporary employment. Jobless individuals – many of whom also suffered personal loss or property damage – were connected with paid work repairing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure, thereby providing structure and income for them and accelerating the path sustained economic recovery in their communities.

During this phase, the NEG program focused primarily on continuing the FEMA-sponsored recovery, and humanitarian assistance and disaster mitigation efforts needed to restore villages, property and infrastructure damaged by the tsunami. NEG projects were launched in sixty-five worksites, which included thirty-three government and non-profit agencies[1] and thirty-two village units throughout the island. 

These projects employed some 2,361 temporary workers between November 1, 2009 and April 24, 2010. Most of these individuals worked to clear debris from the shorelines, streams, river banks, beaches, family and communal lands and roadsides, help families with cleanup and restoration of their homes, and restore and plant vegetation to abate erosion caused by the tsunami and flooding. 

To hear about American Samoans experiences that day - in their own words - view the videos collected by our story gatherers.

Below is a map of the village worksites:
Click Here for an enlarged version


What follows is a list of organizations that employed phase I NEG participants.

Click on the bar to reveal the number of participants and a brief description of the work they did.

To learn about phase II, click Renewal.

Where NEG Participants Worked (Phase I)

Government Departments

NEG temporary workers were hired as file clerks to provide the time and person-power to allow these divisions to absorb the extra work created by the influx of over 2,000 workers.

Employed 11 People

Employed NEG temporary workers to assist with documentation of all NEG events, assist DHR payroll with the increased NEG payroll, and assist with the WIA increased case load, especially in anticipation of participants transitioning from NEG to WIA at the end of NEG Phase 1 activities.

Employed 20 People

Hired NEG participants as clerks, typists and administrative assistants.

Employed 6 People

Hired a clerk typist and administrative assistant from the NEG program to help facilitate the restoration of the pre-disaster operational level of the bank, which included continued cleaning of the office setting, preservation of files, and restoration of the computer network system

Employed 2 People

Deployed NEG participants throughout the Department's various divisions, including administration/finance, civil highway, building, heavy equipment operator, road maintenance, architecture and engineering, maintenance and operations, survey, plumbing, tools and supplies, electric shop, and security

Employed 158 People

Hired a receptionist from the NEG program to fill in for staff assisting with clean-up efforts in the own village, and a computer-internet technician to cover their needs while the office normally responsible for computer support turned their attention to assisting the Emergency Operations Center

Employed 2 People

Hired NEG participants to identify, inventory, inspect and survey, record and maintain government assets damaged by the tsunami

Employed 30 People

Temporary NEG workers were hired to help restore the Fono to its pre-Tsunami state. The Fono NEG Administrator reported that while the focus of the work assignments was disaster-oriented duties and responsibilities, staff noticed the talents and skills possessed by the young participants and made an effort to nurture these skills by allowing participants to work in other divisions of the Legislature, including the President and Speaker's offices, Legislative Reference Bureau and the Legislative Financial Office

Employed 19 People

Hired NEG participants for the positions of clerk typist and administrative assistant to complement existing staff in restoring the department to pre-disaster operational level

Employed 5 People

Hired temporary workers to assist with tent distribution and set-up demonstration

Employed 53 People

Engaged NEG participants: one as an administrative assistant, another as file clerk and third as a construction manager apprentice

Employed 3 People

Employed NEG participants as laboratory field assistants and a water program field assistant to help meet the agency's increased demand for water quality monitoring as a result of the tsunami

Employed 3 People

Hired NEG participants as foreman, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, general laborers, and clerks to rebuild and renovate damaged and destroyed schools and classrooms

Employed 87 People

Hired NEG participants to help meet the influx of land use permit application demands of the community in the wake of the tsunami and to help provide customer support and enforce the project notification review system, and help map evacuation routes.

Employed 4 People

Engaged NEG participants in crop restoration, veterinarian assistance to livestock farmers, stray dog control, surveillance and eradication of invasive species hazardous to plants and animals

Employed 97 People

Other Organizations

The Women’s Community Action Program employed 6 NEG participants in positions of administrative assistant, program supervisors, program facilitators, and micro-enterprise specialists in order to conduct outreach workshops to the community at large in learning and obtaining different skills for the betterment of their families in any case of emergency. These workshops included Literacy in Action groups, and micro-enterprise development workshops which addressed agriculture

Employed 6 People

Hired NEG participants to assist village women with replanting and harvesting pandanus plantations affected by the tsunami and flooding, and using the dried, harvested pandanus leaves to repair fine mates delivered to the worksite by community members

Employed 12 People

Hired NEG participants. Inailau A Tina employed only women and girls, and Tina Mo A Taeao utilized men as well as women in the creation of handicrafts in their efforts to preserve the island’s cultural handicrafting work that utilizes local material. Whereas Inailau A Tina’s efforts were aimed at passing this cultural heritage to younger women and girls, Tina Mo A Taeao’s workforce provided an outlet for senior citizens to socialize and participate in a cultural activity that could potentially earn an income via sales of some of the goods at the port when cruise ships docked to visit the island

Employed 16 People

Quasi- Public Agencies and Non-Profit Organizations

NEG participants placed at KVZK TV Station helped with clean-up, road clearance and provided assistance to the documentation of the Disaster Recovery, as well as to the camera crew for television coverage of the FEMA Disaster Recovery Program

Employed 8 People

Hired NEG participants as loan and collections officers; operations, grants, and data entry clerks; and as survey and electrical technicians and carpenters to help extant staff repair property, relocate staff, and restore pre-disaster capacity

Employed 22 People

The “Recovery Through our Seniors” (Toe Afua Mai Matua) Project of the Territorial Administration on Aging hired NEG participants as Senior Support Mentors responsible for utilizing cultural, language and seniority skills, and wisdom and life experience to engage other seniors in the process of talking, sharing, and establishing stronger opportunities to allow for dialogue to continue and for seniors to re-enter and integrate back into the community, and covered seven of the agency’s 26 functioning worksites throughout the Territory

Employed 26 People

The Pualele Foundation’s mission was to help survivors physically and emotionally. The foundation engaged 24 NEG participants in light debris removal, cleaning and crisis counseling management, with some trainees earning a crisis counseling certificate from the Red Cross and the local Dept of Human Social Services

Employed 24 People

NEG participants were hired to assist in the departments of infection control, the morgue, housekeeping and maintenance, and radiology. In addition to helping with remodeling, repairing and alteration of the Medical Center's vicinity

Employed 46 People

Deployed temporary workers as certified Basic Emergency Medical Technicians, First Responders, a program coordinator, an administrative assistant and a maintenance custodian

Employed 34 People

Recruited NEG participants to support personnel administration, accounting, inventory control, customer service and all aspect of permanent restoration of telecommunications services to affected residents and businesses including telephone repair and maintenance, telephone pole placement, key systems installation and maintenance, cable splicing, repair and maintenance of cellular communication systems / equipment / component construction of underground conduits and pulling fiber, equipment and vehicle repair and maintenance, map creation, GIS (geographic information systems) computer-aided drafting, and electrical wiring installation and maintenance

Employed 46 People

Hired temporary workers from the NEG program to support five Divisions: Solid Waste, Water, Business and Finance / Accounting, Records Recovery, and the Facilities, Safety And Maintenance Division, and one as a utility worker. Participants were involved in clean-up and debris removal, construction, grounds keeping and landscaping, pump maintenance, water well chemical injection and water tank refill, responding to water quality trouble calls, and clerical duties such as timesheets, generating/closing work requests, phone directory management, and filing

Employed 86 People

NEG participants were hired to cleanup and refurbish ASCACH’s Headquarters and the Jean P. Haydon Museum

Employed 113 People

[1] The NEG Program requires that Phase I workers be employed by public agencies and or non-profit organizations.


[1] Source: American Samoa and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Employment, Earnings, and Status of Key Industries Since Minimum Wage Increases Began. US Government Accountability Office (GAO), June 2011