Aso Lulu Setema 30, 2009 – ST, Aso Tofi Oketopa 1, 2009 – NZST
For many in Samoa, the sunrise this morning was a welcome reprieve from a day of earthquake and tsunami devastation followed by a sleepless night of wondering if something much bigger was on the horizon for the Day After.
Samoa and American Samoa disaster relief and government authorities worked well into the night and the early hours of this morning assessing damages in the island nations hardest hit areas and villages. As was reported yesterday, Lalomanu, Aleipata, Siumu and the whole tourist beach resort areas on the South-east side of Upolu right through to Fagaloa bore the full force of the tsunami. Some conflicting reports in International media networks regarding the size of the initial wave, left hundreds of families in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the United States scrambling to make contact with loved ones living or vacationing in both Samoas. Land and cellphone lines were jammed for the best part of the day. The earliest report stated that the initial wave was 1.57 metres high while a later report claimed a 3 metre high wave had struck.
In its wake, a still unconfirmed 100 lives have been lost in Samoa while in American Samoa – international media claims a confirmed loss of 45 lives in Fagatogo and Pago Pago. Last night in a televised interview from Honolulu Hawaii, American Samoa Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono issued a state of emergency for his U.S. Territorial island nation and along with Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann sent their condolences to the families in Samoa who have joined many in mourning the loss of a loved one.
Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Aiono Malielegaoi was excused from meetings with the United Nations in New York City so to return home to assist his people, stopping briefly to receive the condolences from NZ Prime Minister John Key and the promise of assistance and aide from New Zealand. In his place, Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni Retzlaff had mobilized all facets of Samoa’s Disaster Relief team, including hospitals, paramedics, evacuation and search and rescue peoples and was himself seen delivering tents and food supplies to people who remained on higher ground even after the tsunami warning was lifted late yesterday afternoon.
Harrowing scene of a mother carrying her deceased child into the chapel at the hospital in Motootua. (Photo courtesy of friends on the ground in Apia)
Misa Telefoni Retzlaff persevered in tending to the needs of the people even when news of his cousin and island stalwart, Mrs. Tui Annandale, owner and operator of Sinalei Resort in Siumu, died when a wave hit the vehicle she was travelling in with her husband and other family members.
>> Other noted deaths: David Tua’s aunt Mrs Carr and a member of former Manu Samoa Peter Fatialofa’s family. Fatialofa was with his wife Anne, on the last flight out to Samoa last night. Tua will dedicate his fight on Saturday with Shane Cameron to his aunt and to the Samoan people. As at 11.30pm (NZST) last night 2 Australian confirmed dead – one a 6 year old girl and 1 confirmed New Zealander believed to be a NZ/Samoan grandmother visiting her family in Siumu for her 50th birthday.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The question on everyone’s mind is – What happens now? The tsunami leaves in its wake a major clean up, but for many – this clean up cannot begin until all lives have been accounted for. In a late phone call to Samoa last night, I learned that much of Apia and the area on the north side of Upolu was left with mainly building structure damages if not a complete collapse of a building and some fallen shop and street signs and power lines. The bulk of the damage on the north side was caused by the earthquake which shook and rattled for all of 3 minutes. These lesser hit villages, were now taking in evacuated family member from low-lying coastal areas and were said to be doing their best accommodate them with both shelter and food.
People who were evacuated to higher ground, many of them tourist who lost all of their possessions they brought with them to Samoa including passports, in the tsunami – are too scared to come back down fearing another wave, even today.
International visitors are being advised to make their way to Consulate offices in Apia to first be accounted for and then to receive further instructions regarding passport and immigration matters.
THE BIG CLEAN REVEALS A BIG LOSS
This Day After marks the first day of cleaning for some however, who are keen on making an early start of recovering and moving on. 1Samoana.com reporter on the ground in Apia reported last night vie cellphone that people in business are already saying that the only thing that a Big Clean Up will do is shine a brighter light on the fact that the Samoa’s Tourism Industry, its main financial breadwinner, is gone. While the clean up will remove the physical scars on the islands, the underlying scars embedded by the force of the earthquake and tsunami, will be felt for years to come.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest) 1Samoana.com reporter in Apia gives the Government of Samoa a 5 in terms of emergency and natural disaster preparedness. Mere seconds following the 3 minute shake, police officers were at the school bus terminal ushering school kids into the buses and pointing bus drivers up Mt. Vaea and other pre-designated evacuation areas.
The island had undergone several mock evacuation trials in the years following the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 that claimed thousands of lives.
The questions however are about individual families and whether they themselves are prepared for such natural disasters. Some families have stock piled food and resources for disasters like these, but the government in both Samoa’s know that there is huge room for improvement.