Sunday, October 4, 2009

71: Tsunami (Fact Finding Mission)

Our taxi driver picked us up at the house at 7:30 this morning. We had booked him out for the entire day so we could go to the south side and locate friends and family for approximately 20 different people.

Our first stop was Apia where we picked up Benj and his girlfriend. They were going to come out with us. Benj has been so busy in the Peace Corps office getting ready for the new group of volunteers that arrive on Wednesday that he has been unable to help on the south side and hadn't seen the scale of the damage.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family

We took the Mafa Pass to the south side and started in the village of Saleaaumua. An former volunteer is married to a woman from this village and the wife's aunt was looking to make contact with the family. The damage we could see in this village was mostly from flooding, but there was a crumpled plastic water tank in a front lawn, so we knew there had been some strong waves. We were told the family was living inland up the auala galue. We started to drive up the road, but it was pretty rough, so we abandoned the car for a walk. The first kid we asked seem to think it wasn't too far, but everyone we passed after that seemed to think we were in for quite a hike. Eventually we ran into a man who was living with the family. He told us everyone in the family was safe. We passed phone numbers and a Digicel card on to him and told him to have the family call.

Another former volunteer was also concerned for the principal of the Aleipata District Secondary School. She lives in Saleaaumua as well, so we went by her place. The principal and her family were fine. However, one teacher at the school had been killed.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family

Next it was on to Malaela where a former Peace Corps volunteer had lived. The directions to her home involved counting homes from the Mormon Church. Most of those houses had been reduced to rubble and we had to resort to counting foundations. Once again we were happy to learn that all the people she was asking after were fine.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family

We continued on to Satitoa, the home of another former volunteer. He only left the country a couple of months ago. We had already been in contact with his family from when we were down south on Wednesday. Since then Benj had also been in contact with them. We called when we were near and the brother came down to see us. Benj talked with the brother for a while and Cale and I sought out the the Te'o family for another volunteer. We learned that family was safe as well.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family

After Satitoa I took pictures of Ulutogia for a concerned RPCV. This village saw flooding and forceful waves. Buildings are still standing, but there was definitely some destruction.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family

Then we rounded the coast and entered the area of the most extensive damage. A former guest of Litia Sina wanted us to check on the owners and staff. However, there is nothing left in Lalomanu and no one to ask after family. All the people in the area were relief workers. The local police command center has a list of dead, missing and accounted for, but we were unable to find what we needed.

Just the other side of Lalomanu is Saleapaga. home to FaoFao and the Boomerang Beach fales. We came to Boomerang first. We looking for information on a family just west of the fales. Benj told us the harrowing experience of the owner of the Boomerang fales on Tuesday from yesterday's
Samoan Observer. Awakened by the earthquake he had run to warn his neighbors after seeing the water disappear from the ocean. Just as he was warning the neighbor the waves came crashing back. The neighbor scooped up one of his children while the owner of Boomerang's grabbed two and the made a dash for the mountain. The neighbor was caught in the waves and sucked out the sea with his child. The owner of Boomerang's swam with the two children in his arms and caught on to a tree. However, the retreating waves sucked one of the children from his arms. From under water he threw the remaining child up on to high ground on a cliff.

Benj approached the owner and told him how moved he was by the story in the Observer. Still overcome with emotion the owner held back tears when he said he was just doing what anyone else would have done. We asked him about the family we were looking for, just one fale past Boomerangs and he told us this was the family in the story and they had just lost two children. We decided not knock on their door (had there been a door or house to knock at) and to leave them to their mourning.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family
FaoFoa. Site of the hall.

When we got to FaoFao we found Koloseta (who I know as Sui) in good spirits despite the tragedy that had claimed her home and business. Koloseta has been running FaoFao for more than 15 years.

"This business was our life. WIth out the business how will we live?" she asked.

They had taken delivery of two shipping containers full of new items for the fales only one week before the tsunami. Scattered somewhere over the landscape or submerged out at sea or left stranded up the mountain are 100 new mattresses more than 100 new plastic chairs, new sinks, new tiles, ect. Gone, all gone.

"It only took three minutes. Now everything is gone," she said.

Ever determined, Koloseta says she will rebuild, on the mountain side, not the sea side of the road this time.

Tsunami: Finding Friends and Family
FaoFao. Koloseta is determined to rebuild. "Tell all my Peace Corps and my guests that I am fine," she asked.

We stopped to take pictures in Aufaga for an RPCV. The village is high on a cliff and came through unscathed.

Next we went to Utulaelae for a former Peace Corps volunteer and for a friend seeking the family of Al Hunt. In Utulaelae we saw evidence of heavy flooding and some damage. We also found the Red Cross hard at work delivering clothes. We found relatives of the Hunt family who said everyone was fine and there had been no deaths in the village.

We stopped in Satalo for a volunteer from our group who left Samoa about a year go. His family was safe in their house far inland, but the village saw nine families houses destroyed. Thankfully no deaths.

We took pictures in Tafatafa for Laura. She knew her family was safe, but I am sure she will appreciate the photographs.

Our last stop before heading home was Matautu for an other RPCV. When we reached the village we could see that it was high above the water on a cliff. No one was familiar with the name we asked after and we decided to head home.

It was a long grueling day. Cale points out that looking for live people is better then searching for bodies, but still demanding work. We were unable to continue on west of the Cross Island road where there were other villages on our list. Hopefully we can find a way to gather more information later.

I am putting pictures of this trip up on
flickr as fast as I can. I took pictures every place we stopped.

— Sara


Laura said...

Thank you thank you thank you! God I miss them so much. Thank you again you have no idea how much that means.

foundthings said...

You would have definetly been up for a nice sweaty hike, its about an hour-n-half to where they are my husband said!!

Thank you again!

aj said...

NZ Herald website today says Lydia Joe & all staff & guests at Litia Sini are safe. Big relief to all former guests, they are such lovely peaple. But they have lost nieces and nephews according to a report from Samoa yesterday- (apparently Lydia was interviewed on Samoa Radio).