Whole Villages, Whole Families…Gone

SPECIAL REPORT
Manutufatufa Asafo
1Samoana Upolu Correspondent Reports via cellphone

The big-clean up has begun in Samoa after four tsunami waves, the first one reportedly measuring 6 metres, slammed into the South – Southeast areas of the islands of Upolu and Savaii on Tuesday 29 September 2009 at 6.45am ST.

The tsunami followed an 8.3 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter 200 metres out at sea and approximately 40 metres below sea level. Hundreds of families from coastal villages were evacuated inland and have remained displaced since Tuesday.

International relief units from New Zealand, Australia and the United States arrived to the island nation on Wednesday and swiftly moved to assist the government in providing food and supplies to the areas hardest hit. Samoa Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi and a team of government officials were ferried across to Savaii this morning to view first hand the areas on the big island, which up until now has not effectively been assessed.

Talking to international media, Prime Minister Tuilaepa, who arrived home early from scheduled meetings with the United Nations, said “Thankfully the alarm sounded on the radio as it gave people time to climb to higher ground. But not everyone escaped. So much is gone.”

“So many people are gone. I am saddened by all the loss.”

The areas on Savaii which would have felt the full effects of the tsunami would be Vaitoalua, Taga and Salailua. Moreso, Savaii would also have received major damage from the earthquake which preceeded the tsunami. Eyewitnesses from Savaii, who arrived on Upolu via private vessels, told 1Samoana that houses were down in almost all villages on Savaii. Some people did not know where to run. “We saw the wave coming, we ran towards the mountain. The whole time we were running up the mountain we were afraid that the volcano was going to erupt,” said one.

A volcano alert was in effect briefly following the earthquake and tsunami, but was lifted the morning of the day after. Savaii is still volcanically active and the island nation is part of the Pacific Rim of Fire that includes the volcanoes in New Zealand, Indonesia, much of Asia, Hawaii and the Americas.

Last night, geologists and officials at the Civil Defence office discounted the idea that the earthquakes in Indonesia and Honduras in South America were related to the Samoa disaster. “Apart from the fact that these areas are on the Pacific Rim plates, the tragic events of the past 36 hours are seperate and coincidental.”

BURY WHERE YOU CAN

1Samoana correspondent in New Zealand, Tamavalevale received calls from families and individuals around Auckland telling him that they were being told by their surviving loved ones in Lalomanu, Poutasi and Malaela that the scene there was dark and gloomy. “Finding bodies of loved ones…literally picking them up, wrapping them in fala’s and finding a place to dig a hole and burying them.” There is a great fear of disease setting in and families were not prepared to face the likelihood of losing more loved ones should a disease outbreak occur.

DEATH TOLL

It has been widely reported that the death toll now stands at 150 in Samoa, however with families being forced to bury loved ones as soon as they are found, acquiring an exact figure may prove to be harder to get as the days roll on.

Families are still gathering at the hospital in Motootua, many of whom are not sure whether a loved one has died or is still out there missing. Telecommunication lines are up, but the system is very slow and calls are simply not being connected.

TOURISM SAMOA

People throughout the islands are trying to keep their spirits up, but with the countries number one industry down, there is a blanket of doubt Samoa would recover enough to reclaim its status as one of the best tourist destinations in the South Pacific.

Tourism operators including hotel and hospitatlity section and car rental companies are determined to recover however long it may take. With the South side tourism corridor (from Siumu to Samusu and Fagaloa) literally desimated, it may take years to return it back to its full glory.

VISITING SCHOOL EXCURSIONS

10 students and 6 teachers from Mangere College will stay on in Samoa for the remainder of their two week cultural excursion. Assistant Principal, Mele Ah Sam who is leading the group of Year 12 and 13 Samoan language students, told colleagues in New Zealand that it was important for them to continue their trip.

Deputy Principal, Mohan Patel spoke with Mrs. Ah Sam yesterday and was told that the students and teachers were in high spirits and are prepared to assist where and when given the opportunity.

The group will leave on Friday to Savaii. They will be returning to New Zealand on Monday 12th October.

THE NEXT FEW DAYS

Many of the inland villages hosting displaced families and individuals from the coastal areas have banded together to ration out food as they patiently wait for relief aide to come in. However, the outpouring of love from family members living abroad are assisting in speeding up the recovering process.

There are people lining up at Money transfer offices in Apia, some of them not even sure whether their families have sent them anything. An 80 year old man and his wife who managed to escape the tsunami in Lalomanu with the help of unknown heroes, stood in line for four hours this morning not sure that their family had sent anything. As 1Samoana.com was able to witness, the couple with tears in their eyes came out of the Money transfer office with an undisclosed sum of money and a printout of food items ordered and paid for by family members in New Zealand.

**The cellphone connection to 1Samoana.com Upolu correspondent Manutufatufa Asafo disconnected shortly after this experience was shared. We will endeavour to return to Upolu tomorrow for more updates on the ground in Samoa.

* Contributions by Tamavalevale

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