Cablegate: Embassy Wellington: Samoa/New Zealand Situation Report

DE RUEHWL #0320/01 2730656
O R 300655Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Embassy Wellington: Samoa/New Zealand Situation Report


1. (SBU) SUMMARY - On September 29, 2009, Embassy Wellington's
Emergency Action Committee met to discuss the recent earthquake off
the coast of Samoa and ensuing tsunamis in the region. Embassy
Wellington remains in contact with Embassy Apia, providing support
and communication assistance as appropriate. An up-to-date
Situation Report for Embassy Apia begins in paragraph two (2). In
relation to New Zealand, the EAC agreed to release an external and
internal warden message urging people in low lying areas in New
Zealand to move to higher ground as a precaution. Following the
"All-Clear" announcement by the Government of New Zealand, the
Charge d'Affaires ordered a resumption of normal operations
throughout New Zealand. During the New Zealand tsunami warning,
Embassy Wellington remained in contact with Consulate Auckland, the
U.S. Antarctic Program in Christchurch, the Department's Operations
Center, and DS Command Center. END SUMMARY

2. (SBU) Embassy Apia Situation Report (1500 hrs local) - All Chief
of Mission and Peace Corps personnel are accounted for and
uninjured. The Embassy just received the first report of an
American casualty - a U.S. Citizen resident of Samoa reportedly
drown. The Embassy is in contact with the next of kin located in
Samoa. The Embassy has been monitoring local hospitals and found
only one (1) injured American whose condition is not serious.

3. (SBU) Casualty numbers are growing rapidly. The National
Hospital reports 17 casualties in the morgue and 20 more bodies in
route from the south coast, with more casualties to be transported
in additional vehicles. Of the 37 casualties reported, three are
believed to be tourists; their nationalities have yet to be
identified. There are at least another 50 persons reported missing
and that number may increase dramatically. The hospitals around
the country are also handling hundreds of cases of injured persons.

4. (SBU) Operations are now being run from the Embassy, housed in a
commercial office building in Apia. The Embassy has power and
appears to be undamaged by the events. An Embassy staff member has
reached the heavily damaged southern coast of Samoa's Upolu Island.
He reports significant damage - homes washed off foundations, cars
strewn about, washed-out roads, and power lines down. The Samoan
Government is moving to open roads with heavy equipment and restore

5. (SBU) Embassy Wellington will send a Political Officer, who
holds a Consular commission, to Embassy Apia tomorrow, September 30
(in Samoa), to provide assistance with ACS work and reporting
requirements. The Government of Samoa's (GOS) Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (MFA) has invited the Charge to attend a crisis assessment
session at 1600 hrs (local).

6. (SBU) The MFA is meeting with the High Commissions of Australia
and New Zealand concerning emergency assistance, including search
and rescue resources. The GOS has not officially requested
assistance from the United States, but informed the Embassy they
may seek assistance depending on the outcome of the current
meeting. Embassy Wellington's Defense Attach???? Office has already
been in contact with Pacific Command (PACOM) in the event a request
is made.

7. (SBU) Background: Wellington remained in touch with the Acting
Charge d'Affaires in Apia who initially reported the earthquake
produced unknown damage on the island and minor damage to the
official residence. The earthquake occurred prior to the Embassy
(Lock-and-Leave) opening, so no personnel were in the building.
The Charge was in communication with the Peace Corps Director, and
both were in the process of initiating their respective phone tree
notification plans - accounting for all personnel and directing
people to seek higher ground. The Charge's residence in Apia was
designated the alternate Command Post as it is on high ground. In

WELLINGTON 00000320 002 OF 002

a subsequent call the Charge confirmed accountability of all
personnel. Embassy Wellington continued to monitor the situation
throughout the morning and relaying situation reports to the
Department for Embassy Apia.

8. (SBU) New Zealand Situation Report - Following the 8.3 magnitude
earthquake off the coast of Samoa early Wednesday (New Zealand
time) morning, Post convened an Emergency Action Committee (EAC),
chaired by the Charge d'Affaires, to discuss the situation in Samoa
(Embassy Apia, Samoa is a constituent post supported by Embassy
Wellington), and the tsunami warning issued by the Government of
New Zealand (GNZ). The meeting included all available EAC members
and the Consulate General in Auckland via conference call.

9. (SBU) The EAC decided to issue a Warden Message to the American
public in New Zealand, advising a potential tsunami may be
radiating across the South Pacific following the earthquake and
urged people in low-lying areas to immediately seek higher ground
as a precautionary measure. At the same time, the EAC agreed to
initiate the passage of an internal message through the phone tree
system advising both official and local staff as well as official
family members of the situation and directing those in low lying
areas to move to two designated sites on higher ground as a
precaution. This message was passed to the U.S. Antarctic Program
in Christchurch, NZ who also directed staff to higher ground. The
Consulate General in Auckland, NZ moved operations to the Consulate
General's residence, situated on higher ground, as a precaution as
the commercial office building housing the Consulate is located
near the harbor and the Consulate's alternate power source
(generator) was located in the below-ground basement.

10. (SBU) The resulting tsunami that hit New Zealand was measured
at 40cm. Once the tsunami threat diminished, the New Zealand
Ministry of Civil Defense gave the "All-Clear" for the country at
approximately 1230 hrs (local). Following this announcement, the
Charge d'Affaires issued an order to resume normal operations
throughout New Zealand.

11. (SBU) Embassy Wellington and Consulate Auckland are conducting
after-action all-hands meetings with Mission personnel to discuss
each post's reaction to events, solicit feedback on ways to
improve, and express the importance of emergency preparedness.

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