POSTED: 07:49 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2010
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa>> The National Weather Service in American Samoa has been given authority to issue local tsunami warnings in some cases before official word comes from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.
A local warning can be issued if at least a magnitude-7.1 earthquake is felt by residents of the only U.S. territory south of the equator, meteorologist Mase Akapo said.
"First, you have to feel a strong quake in our region," Akapo said. "Depending on more information, we may cancel the warning or continue it."
He said the decision was aimed at warning residents more quickly.
It takes the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center about 10 to 15 minutes to gather needed information and determine if a quake generated a destructive tsunami. That's too long if a powerful quake occurs close to the territory, Akapo said.
"The clear message is, 'If you feel a strong quake, head to higher grounds,"' he said.
On Sept. 29, tsunami waves up to 46 feet high were generated by a magnitude-8.0 earthquake near neighboring Samoa, killing 194 people, including 34 in American Samoa.
Located in Ewa Beach, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center oversees the issuance of tsunami warnings for the Pacific following earthquakes in the region.
In June, American Samoa received a shipment of equipment for its first-ever early warning siren system.
Several territorial lawmakers and many community members believe a siren system would have saved lives during last year's earthquake and tsunami.
Gov. Togiola Tulafono and other government officials maintain public education and awareness programs worked during the disaster, since people knew to move to higher ground.