The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending a team from California and assigning its local office to assess tsunami damage in Hawaii, a FEMA official said yesterday.
The team will survey damage to public infrastructure and private homes and businesses. Damage estimates, repair costs and uninsured losses will be tallied, and the governor will decide whether to request assistance from FEMA, said Tim Manning, who arrived in Honolulu on Monday to meet with the governor, followed by a trip to American Samoa, which was hit by a very small tsunami wave and had no damage.
Manning, FEMA deputy administrator for Protection and National Preparedness, could not say whether Hawaii’s tsunami damage appears to meet FEMA’s minimum criteria to declare it a major disaster.
Manning urged planning ahead for hazards and being equipped for the risk.
"Even in the wake of a disaster, people tend to decrease their preparedness," he said. After Hurricane Katrina, only 50 percent surveyed were prepared, although it was closer to 30 percent or 40 percent who were really prepared, he said.
"The sense is, ‘It won’t happen to me,’" he said.
On Feb. 22, Manning was in Christchurch, New Zealand, to meet with officials there when a magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck.
"I saw people not react," Manning said. "I saw people sitting at the table having lunch and look around them as ceiling tiles and glass were falling all around them. I saw some go under columns, which was the right thing to do. I saw people run outside."
"The most important thing is … understanding your own risks," whether one lives in an area prone to landslides, tsunamis, floods or earthquakes, and what to do about it, he said.
The roads in New Zealand were completely clogged with people trying to get to their children’s schools, Manning said. The phone service was spotty, he said.
While Hawaii had several hours’ advance warning, some disasters like the 2009 American Samoa tsunami were near-shore events, as were the catastrophic events in Japan, with no time to prepare.
"When you feel the ground shake, run uphill," Manning said. "There’s no time to think, ‘Am I in an inundation zone?’ Just go."
One of FEMA’s top priorities is training and education, Manning said, relating how during the Indian Ocean tsunami a vacationing 11-year-old English girl, who learned about tsunamis in geography class, saved countless lives by warning others when the water receded.