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American Samoa, Disaster News and Travel

The beautiful pre-tsunami Pago Pago harbor in American Samoa

The beautiful pre-tsunami Pago Pago harbor in American Samoa

If you have been paying attention to the news the last several days, you have probably heard about the tsunami which struck American Samoa. If you are also like most people, you have heard absolutely nothing about American Samoa in the news, maybe your entire life. Most Americans are probably not even aware that American Samoa is a territory of the United States, that they have a non-voting representative in Congress just like Washington DC, or that they have the highest percentage of people who enlist in the military of any state or territory in the US.

I don’t blame you if you don’t know these facts. Honestly, there is little reason to know them. I bring them up only because American Samoa is one of many places which are totally invisible to everyone until something bad happens. Afterward your perception of that place is forever tainted.

Many people are scared of traveling because the only thing they know about foreign countries is what they see and hear on the news. The news from American Samoa is microcosm of what is happening all the time, but is so subtle we are seldom aware of it. If the news involves a war, killings or terrorism, the impression which is left in the minds of people is even worse.

I write this because I’m one of the few people who have actually been to American Samoa. Samoa (both American and Western) is a beautiful place with some of the most generous, peaceful people you’ll ever meet in the world. Despite their fame in football, rugby and professional wrestling, most Samoans would never hurt a fly. When I see the photos coming out of American Samoa I’m not just looking at pictures of devastation, I’m seeing places that I’ve been. When I heard the news I had an idea of what might have been damaged and where. The shop I purchased my lava lava from might have been damaged, the restaurant I ate tuna sushi in was probably destroyed, and the McDonald’s near the industrial park was probably not touched at all. My perception is probably really different than yours because I’ve traveled there.

My point is that you should always keep in mind, a place is not the sum of the stories you hear on the news. Prior to Monday, people lived, worked, raised families and died in American Samoa and no one heard a peep about it on the news. Now most people only know it as the place that was hit with a tsunami. Whether it is a natural disaster, civil war, murders, riot or famine, don’t let your opinion of a place be formed solely by the headlines in the news.

  • 12 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. HedgeLender says:

    sorry to hear about it. Crystal beach was wiped out by Ike too. so it’s sad to see

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you on the whole matter of the media shaping people’s opinions of places. I know it wasn’t as big of a problem, but I live in Atlanta, and a few weeks ago we had so much rain that parts of the city were under water. When I say parts…we had neighborhoods and small sections of the city under water. The media made it seem like it was another Katrina. It’s no wonder Americans tend to live in fear.

    Why is our media so much worse than everyone else’s?

  3. Phi Phi says:

    Remind me of the tsunami in Thailand.

  4. I have never heard of Ameican Samoa and all references to this devastation use just say Samoa and Tonga. Hope USA responds to this little island given the support it has given to the military.

  5. Bunni says:

    When I’m able to start traveling again, I’ll have to travel to places like this instead of places everyone is familiar with like France, England,etc. American Samoa and places like it seem to be hidden treasures buried in the sand…

    Shame though of what happened there. Although natural disasters are just that, natural and can’t be avoided, its still saddening when it happens.

  6. Stacey says:

    Maybe not the ONLY reason… they also make up roughly half the population of South Auckland :)

  7. Stacey says:

    But its okay guys, Aussie guy, I’m a kiwi, when the American wrote that no-one ever visits or has heard of it, I know that’s not true for us, heaps of people visit and we have very close ties with the country. It’s totally a matter of perspective. American guy, worst hit was the south coast of (western samoa) a place called Lalomanu, 50 out of the 79 recorded dead so far are from that small village. It breaks my heart.

  8. Stephen says:

    It’s interesting that you talk about news reports on “the tsunami that hit American Samoa”. Last night in Australia I watched a special news program that reported on the tsunami, and the words “American Samoa” were not used once – they just said Samoa. All the on the spot reports that identified a location came from Samoa, not American Samoa. The total figures they gave for deaths/injuries seem to be totals for both (after looking at other news reports). If I didn’t already know American Samoa existed, and where it was, I wouldn’t have any idea it had been likely hit also. I had to go look at other news sources to find out that both had been hit, though it looks like more damage was done in Samoa. It’s just an interesting difference in reporting perspective.

    • Gary says:

      All the news here has been about American Samoa and I’ve been trying to find out just the opposite: what happened in Samoa?

      Given the orientation of the islands, Pago Pago got hit harder than Apia. I have no idea who got hit worse at this point.

      Since Samoa changed their name from Western Samoa, it has been hard because “Samoa” is often used to describe the cultural unit of Samoa which includes both political jurisdictions.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I spent a couple of weeks in Samoa (one day in American Samoa) in 2003 and thought it was the most beautiful place I’ve been.

    I found everyone there to be extremely friendly, and I am distressed to think that they might not all be ok.

  10. Stacey says:

    I just got back from Samoa, I stayed in Lalomanu the part most worst affected: Here is my blog post pre-Tsunami http://begoodbegoodatit.blogspot.com/2009/09/how-was-my-trip.html It really was paradise.

    and post-tsunami: http://begoodbegoodatit.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-thoughts-and-love.html The place will not be rebuilt, the coral reefs packed with fish are gone, the place is pretty much lost.

    I am feeling this a lot, it all seems a little surreal. People need to go back though, this country survives on tourism. You’ll see from my 1st post that it is well worth it.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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