HONOLULU – The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Samoa and American Samoa prompted officials in Hawaii to take precautions against possible devastating flooding as some residents prayed that loved ones in their homeland survived.
At the American Samoa government office in Honolulu, the telephones were ringing constantly as Samoans in Hawaii and on the mainland inquired about the aftereffects of the tsunami. Some in Hawaii frantically texted and e-mailed family members back home.
Hawaii and much of the rest of the Pacific were placed under tsunami advisories for a few hours Tuesday following the earthquake. The warnings and watches were canceled by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu after the threat of a tsunami subsided.
Still, the center said sea level changes and strong currents could occur along Hawaii's coasts, posing a hazard to swimmers and boaters. As a precaution, a couple of schools closed because of their proximity to the shoreline.
"We are asking for the (assistance) of all of our residents and visitors to keep out of the water and away from the beaches and river mouths," Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. "These precautionary measures are being implemented to keep everyone safe."
The mayor added a personal note.
"My thoughts are with friends and family in Samoa," Hannemann said. "I know many of us have relatives and good friends in the affected areas, and we pray that they are safe and secure despite what must have been a very frightening time."
The American Samoa government office's handful of staff members were having the same trouble as everyone else trying to get through to their homeland. Telephone service to the island was spotty at best.
Meanwhile, the governor of American Samoa, Togiola T.A. Tulafono, was in Honolulu for an ocean policy conference. Aides were trying to schedule an emergency trip back to American Samoa on a Coast Guard plane.
He was scheduled to conduct a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
A half-dozen Honolulu pastors who have Samoan congregants were communicating with each other through e-mail and texting, said Taacao Alualu, pastor of the Solid Rock Fellowship Assembly of God.
"The main focus of Christians right now is prayer to the Lord," said Alualu. "That's the main hope, that everything will be OK."
Hawaiian Airlines announced it intended to operate its next flight from Honolulu to American Samoa on Thursday evening as scheduled, pending confirmation of conditions at Pago Pago International Airport. The airport was closed to commercial flights after the disaster.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor in Los Angeles said the airport's runways were closed because of widespread debris, but one runway was to be cleared Tuesday afternoon for emergency use.