S: Samoa Tsunami 2009
FC: Samoa Tsunami Relief | Aska Hirabe
1: On September 29, 2009, an earthquake of M8.3 and the following tsunami brought devastations to Samoa, killing nearly 150 people and leaving thousands homeless. Thanks to all the donors, I was able to collect more than 50kg of clothes, medical supplies, and other materials as well as over USD15,000 of cash (approx. SAT38,000). 10 days after the tsunami, I took these to Samoa and distributed to those in need. These are the people and stories I've encountered.
2: It was nighttime when I arrived in Tafitoala. Faleolo had called me to tell me that the old man, Sa'ili, was waiting for me at his fale (house). The family had moved in with their relatives inland, but Sa'ili insisted on waiting for me in his own fale just like he always did although his fale was ruined by the tsunami. The men of the family had been drinking in the new restaurant they were building in front of Sa'ili's fale while they waited. | As we drove into Tafitoala, I became speechless. Although it was too dark to see, I could at least tell there were no fales where there were fales before. And then I saw Sina PJ Beach Fales. Only one of the six beach fales still stood. But as soon as I saw those guys hanging out like they always used to, my heart suddenly warmed. When they saw the car, they started singing a Samoan song that they always make me sing and dance to whenever we hang out. When I heard them clap and sing that song, I burst into tears. They gave me a hug one by one and one of them went to get Sa'ili. Sa'ili came out of his fale and gave me a big smile and a big hug with his big strong arms. He's a man of few words and does not smile too often. His smile really comforted me. I burst into tears again. It was good to see them. It was really good to see them...
3: The next morning, I went back to the beach side to see what happened to the village. When Sina (9), PJ (7) and I were just about to leave, Aska (4) insisted that she comes with us. We all said no. There was no way she could have made it to the beach. She was badly traumatized by the tsunami and she had been afraid to return to the beach ever since. But because she insisted and cried and cried, we had no choice but to take her. So we left the fale. Aska was holding my hand, jumping up and down. I carried her when we crossed the river. We ran into one of the family, Pesega, on the road and the 5 of us headed to the beach side. Just when we reached about half way to the beach, Aska stops walking. Her face frowned all of a sudden and started crying, saying she wants to go back. She would not go farther. When we told her to come with us, she started walking back to the fale by herself still crying. I asked Pesega to take PJ to where his dad was, and Sina and I took Aska back to the fale on the mountain side. She was so scared. | We went back to the beach side and spent the whole day washing in the sea stinky muddy clothes and other things that were washed inland by the tsunami while we waited for the government to come with aid materials. It was pretty much everything they had in the fale. A lot of them had been ripped and ruined. But we had to rinse them first to sort them out. They were too stinky.
4: It was extremely fortunate everybody in Tafitoala survived the tsunami. Tutoni's fale was entirely wiped out. It was lucky Tutoni, Lani, and the kids had gone to Apia at the time of tsunami to wait for the baby to come out.
5: Asalea's faleoo had disappeared entirely.
6: Sina PJ Beach Fales. Before & After.
7: The first faleoo. Before & After. Ula used to take a nap on the table every Sunday.
8: The third faleoo. Before & After. Only faleoo that still stands.
9: All 6 faleoo. The 5th one, the open fale, was entirely uprooted and washed away.
10: The old faleai (eating house). Before & After.
11: The family's fale. The wall of the bedroom had been jostled down by the tsunami. The big girls' room was somewhat intact.
12: This picture of Jiri was a part of the photo collage I made Malae for his birthday. It had been displayed on the altar in the sitting room for years. It was emotional to see.
13: The entire umukuka (Samoan traditional kitchen house) was demolished.
14: Just like any other day, PJ was the first to wake up. He was asking for cereal. When he went out of the fale, he saw the ocean pull out. Then the whole family came out. The reef was awfully red. So tall. Nothing they've seen before. The water dropped so fast that it looked like a big red mountain was forming up. They immediately started running towards the main road. Faleolo had Will under her arm, and Sina and Aska followed right behind her. But there wasn't time. When the church rang the bell, the waves were already coming. They started running to the opposite direction from the sea. | The Family's Story... | Ula took Will from Faleolo and climbed up a tree. Sina was screaming "Mother Mary, please, please help us!" Aska was also crying out for help. That's when Aska fell. She was screaming and screaming. Sina shouted, "Aska! Come on! Get up! Aska!" But Aska wouldn't get up. The waves were coming just 1m from Aska's feet. Sina quickly ran back, grabbed Aska's hand and ran. If it weren't for Sina, what would have happened to Aska... Malae had gone to look for Mama who went to check on her neighbor. After he made sure that Mama was safe, he ran to look for his kids. But he was caught in the tsunami. His strong solid Samoan body was tossed about in the tsunami just like a little rock. In the middle of the waves, he could'nt but to think, "If the waves could take my body like this, my kids would have had no chance." He felt helpless. In the meantime, PJ and Jiri were also taken by the tsunami. They were washed inland and both of them held on to the mangroves with all the might in their little bodies. Their feet had been swept off. Only thing that kept them from getting washed away was their arms. But they are tough boys. Luckily, a young man who saw them grabbed them, told them to hold on to his legs and climbed up a tree. | Sina & Aska Jiri & PJ
15: Faleolo couldn't see Malae. But she heard him scream, "I can't find my kids! I don't wanna live any more! I wanna die! I can't find my kids!" Ula was also madly screaming. Seeing the kids taken by the waves, hearing the kids scream "Mom! Mom!" and even grown men scream, it was nothing but a living hell for him. Moliga was at the main road waiting for the bus to go to school. All the school kids and others who were at the main road had run away to the mountain side. But Moliga refused to leave without the family. When the family finally reached the main road, Moliga and her friend were the only ones that were left on the main road. | Ula & Will Moliga | It was lucky Sa'ili wasn't in the village at the time of tsunami. He had gone to Apia. How worried he must have been.... They said it was a miracle they all survived... Faleolo said, "I just want to forget about it. But it's so hard to get it off my mind." The kids don't want to live on the beach ever again. The family is building a fale on the mountain side now. | Malae Faleolo
16: Despite such a traumatic experience they had, the most important thing is that they are all alive. Jiri had swallowed some sea water causing a minor lung problem and Malae still suffers body aches. But they are okay. All they need now is their own place to stay. | The Family
17: The family moved in with their extended families that stay inland. With some family members visiting from overseas, there were 16 adults, 2 teenagers, 9 children, and 3 babies. 30 people in total. It was a full house. | Full House
18: Despite such a traumatic experience, kids are still kids. Just as cheeky. | Kids
19: Second Sunday of October is a holiday in Samoa. It is called White Sunday and is a day for the children. All the children wear white clothes and perform reading of bible verses, dancing, and a play in church. | Lotu Tamaiti
20: Then, we were on the road...
21: For the next few days, I went around seeing the situation of the southern coast and asking them what their current needs were. I visited every village from Tafitoala to Tafatafa, Salani, and the districts of Lepa and Aleipata. An area that was affected severely by the tsunami within the island of Upolu concentrated primarily on the southern coast of the island, namely the districts of Aleipata, Lepa, Falelili, Si‘umu, and Safata. The most devastated area was Lepa and Aleipata. Many villages in Siumu and Falealili had been hit severely. There was loss of lives. Many had lost their fales, most of their material possessions, source of income, and/or means of subsistence living. As much as I would have loved to assist all in need, there unfortunately was limited time and resources. Deciding on a focus area wasn’t easy, but in order for the money to be distributed to maximize effectiveness, a focus area had to be determined. After much contemplation, I decided to focus on 5 villages on the southern coast of the island: | For the next few days, I went around seeing the situation of the southern coast and asking them what their current needs were. I visited every village from Tafitoala to Tafatafa, Salani, and the districts of Lepa and Aleipata. An area that was affected severely by the tsunami within the island of Upolu concentrated primarily on the southern coast of the island including the districts of Aleipata, Lepa, Falelili, Si‘umu, and Safata. The most devastated area was Lepa and Aleipata. Many villages in Siumu and Falealili had been hit severely. There was loss of lives. Many had lost their fales, most of their material possessions, source of income, and/or means of subsistence living. As much as I would have loved to assist all in need, there unfortunately was limited time and resources. Deciding on a focus area wasn’t easy, but in order for the money to be distributed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, a focus area had to be determined. After much contemplation, I decided to focus on 5 villages in 3 districts on the southern coast of the island: - Vaovai (Falealili) - Saleilua (Falealili) - Sa'aga/Aganoa (Si‘umu) - Si‘umu (Si‘umu) - Tafitoala (Safata) As tsunami victims' most immediate needs were building supplies in most affected area, if not all. So I purchased 25 vouchers from a hardware store (24 SAT1,150 ones and a SAT500 one). Every family with a broken fale in the focus area received this voucher in addition to other aid materials which was distributed as-needed-basis. | - Vaovai (Falealili) - Saleilua (Falealili) - Sa'aga/Aganoa (Si‘umu) - Si‘umu (Si‘umu) - Tafitoala (Safata) Tsunami victims' most immediate needs seemed to be building supplies in most affected areas, if not all. So I purchased 25 vouchers from a hardware store (24 SAT1,150 ones and a SAT500 one). Every family with a broken fale we could find in the focus area received this voucher in addition to other aid materials which were distributed on an as-needed basis. The company kindly provided free delivery to each family.
22: Two of these families each lost 2 children to the tsunami. There were 7 families with demolished fales. We were only able to give the vouchers to 5 families we could find because all of them had moved up to the main road or to Apia. The place looked awfully empty.
23: In Tafitoala, a voucher was given to 5 families with demolished fales. Monetary donation was distributed to 16 affected families in the amount of SAT200 per family except such particular cases as pastors’ and high chiefs’ families.
24: This lady in Saleilua, Tauva Fanene, and her family was the only one living on the coast in this village. They were luckily in town at the time of tsunami except for one of her children who also survived the tsunami.
25: Their fale was devastated. The main house lost all posts of one side of the house and was about to collapse any minute while other fales (cooking house, toilet/shower, etc) were entirely wiped out. The government had advised them to stay away from it for their safety. Now, the family lives under a tent without electricity. They didn't only lose their house and all their material possessions. They were losing their source of income as well. They are a farming family and owned over 50 chickens, 7 mother pigs and each of them had piglets. They all survived the tsunami, but a few days later many chickens started getting sick. They had been eating rotten fishes that were washed inland and caught on mangroves. Two weeks after the tsunami, they had less than 20 chickens and the pigs were starting to get sick. This family was in desperate need. They were not receiving sufficient aid materials from the government as other people in the village pretended to be members of this family and stole the aid package when the government dropped them off. Catholic church had been providing timber and roofing iron to affected families in the area, somehow this family was forgotten. When I asked them what they needed the most, they said they wanted a toilet bowl. So we gave them a new toilet bowl and a voucher. Tauva has 6 children of her own and 2 adopted children. She met one of her adopted children at a hospital 4 years ago. He was hospitalized with a kidney problem. He had been left by his own family at the hospital perhaps because they couldn't pay the medical bills. So Tauva adopted him. He is now 20 years old. Another one was found on the street. He had a heavy mental illness. Tauva took him to the police and went with them to take him back to his village. But his family wasn't very happy to have him back. Seemingly, he had been abused by the family. Naturally he didn't want to stay there. A few days later, he walked nearly 40km from Apia to Saleilua crossing a mountain from one side of the island to another to look for Tauva. Tauva then adopted him. She said, "Samoan people back in the day never abandoned their children because they were sick or because they were too much trouble. Samoa is changing quickly. All the children born in Samoa, it is our responsibility to look after them. That's why I adopted them."
26: Two major resorts, Sinalei Reef Resort and Coconut Beach Resort, experienced severe impacts of tsunami. In the residential area, there were 7 families whose houses were demolished, some completely some partially.
27: We were able to provide 7 families with a voucher. A bag of clothes was given to each of these families and medical supplies were provided as needed. For they had not received as much aid materials as other villages, they were very grateful with the gifts. Some even called us angels...
28: This lady in Aganoa, Sauaso, lived with her husband, Tautua, her mother, and her son's family. They were the only family that lived on the coast in this village. She lost her mother, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter to the tsunami.
29: Their houses were entirely wiped out. They stay under a large beach parasol now. I asked Sauaso where the houses used to be. She said, "You're sitting on it right now." Her mother lived in New Zealand since the 70s. A little while ago, Sauaso had been visiting her sick mother for a few months. When Sauaso told her she had to go back to Samoa, her mother asked Sauaso to take her along. She wanted to see her motherland she hadn't been back to in decades. So, upon her mother's strong wish, she brought her back. This was just little over a month ago. At the time of tsunami, Sauaso and Tautua carried her together and headed inland. They said she knew what was going on. She looked. But didn't react. She was calm. But the waves caught them. And they lost her. She was 84. "If only I hadn't brought her back from New Zealand..." Never in these words, but she kept implying. Her son's family stays inland now. The children were missing their mother. But Sauaso didn't want to leave. It was her place. She was born there. And her mother was still there. It was not that the family had enough clothes. When I asked Sauaso what it was that she needed, she said, “I would like some mattresses for my family. My body hurts when I sleep on the ground. That’s all. I'm Samoan. Our plantation on the mountain is still there. There are coconuts everywhere. The government gave us some clothes, but I don't want to wear them. I still have a few shirts and ie (cloths). That's enough. Thank you so much for your help.” She had a big black eye and had just come back from a hospital in town to get an x-ray on her head. Her body was filled with bruises. Her husband had a long thick scar from his thigh all the way down to his ankle on top of an infected foot. And they did not have a mattress to sleep on. So we gave them 6 mattresses, a wheel barrow, a voucher, and some medical supplies for Tautua.
30: Aleipata and Lepa | When we were driving into the area, we instantly knew that we had arrived because the entire scenery changed to brown. The whole area had been wiped out and all the trees were dead and defoliated due to sea water. It was as if winter had arrived in Samoa. As people burned dead trees and leaves, smoke arose all over the village. The place looked like a battlefield. When I saw my friend who stays in Aleipata for the first time since the tsunami, he said, "People are looking for dead bodies all day. From 5am to 10pm. Mothers are screaming 'Where are my children? Where are my children?' I saw dead bodies like headless bodies or just a hand of a little kid." He had been helping other families look for their missing family members everyday. He was often talking nonsense. He was hurting. And it was heartbreaking to see. Nobody should have to go through this. Nobody. | There was a family in Lalomanu that lost 13 family members, some of which were children. As a friend of mine was related to this family, I went to see if there was anything I could do. We drove by three times and I finally recognized the place. It was flat. Completely flat. Concrete base where the restaurant used to be was the only thing that was left. There were two boys hanging out there. They said their mother was hospitalized close to town. So I visited her at the hospital. The room was filled with family members and packages from overseas. And there she was. She sat on her bed and said her body hurt but she was doing okay. She talked about the children she had lost. She shed tears. I remained speechless throughout the conversation, having absolutely no clue what to say. And she said, "But our life hasn't ended. Because a lot of our past guests are helping us, we have to recover fast and show them that we're back."
31: After I visited her, I realized that I had met her before. I had stayed at their beach fales 5 years ago. And I remembered I had met one of her daughters, a beautiful girl named Moanalei. She must be 8 or 9 now. I am hoping she was one of the ones at the hospital with her mom. Earlier that week, I was looking for my friend's family in Satitoa, one of the most devastated villages. A lady from the family stood in her completely empty house with everything having been washed away in the tsunami. This lady had lost her niece. Her father is a pulenu'u (village mayor) and all the aid materials he received from the government, he had passed on to his village, not keeping a thing for himself. She was asking me why I was there. I explained. We talked for a while. And she said, "Oh poor you. Are you okay? It looks like you're having to do a lot. Call me any time if you need anything, and you take care of yourself. Come back later in the week so we can give you some food or something." And then she handed me 2 bottles of Coke. She said we'd need it for the road. Then she said, "I'm so sorry this is all we can do, we got nothing... And I'm sorry they're not cold. Tsunami took our fridge. If you take them to a store in the next village, maybe they'll exchange them for colder ones." I could not believe her. This Samoan hospitality she was giving us. I said, "Thank you so very much, but I cannot... I cannot take this from you... You should keep them. But thank you very much..." She said, "Okay. But don't worry about us. We lost everything. But we're okay. A lot of us are still alive." I was only able to provide these families with a small monetary assistance. God knows how much I wished that I could do more.
32: Every second of every day that I was there, I wished that I could do more. But, although what we had to give might not have been much, it apparently was for some people who really needed it. Our help certainly made some people very happy. So, thank you all. From deep in my heart, Thank you so very much... Love, Aska | This was a long week. Physically and emotionally exhausting. But by far the most meaningful indescribably invaluable 7 days of my life. None of this was possible if it weren't for the support from all the donors. And none of this was possible if it weren't for my dear friends, Nikki & Chris. They're the most selfless, loving, kind, humane souls I've known (and I don't describe people like this often). | Finally...
33: And today, Samoa is still ever so beautiful. Just as beautiful as its people.