A rude awakening

Report from Samoa

Paul Anderson, a 2005 Oregon State University graduate with a masters of science in geography, is currently in Samoa. He shared this report with us on the aftermath of the tsunami. (Anderson will be sending photos to add to this report soon)

Just before 7 a.m. Tuesday morning (Sept. 29), shaking jolted Samoa awake. The temblor continued for approximately 90 seconds before the breaking dishes and swaying trees settled.  For those in Apia and the north coast of Samoa the earthquake was a rude awakening and lead to a tsunami alert in town that evacuated the majority of the residents uphill.  Unfortunately for the residents on the south coast there was no warning other than the earthquake.

The first indication of trouble to those with a view of the sea was the reef crest entirely exposed and water draining away. Less than twenty minutes after the quake (some say in as little as 10 minutes) a wall of water rose over the reef and hurled toward the coastline, those who ran fast were the lucky ones.

Within two hours of the tsunami we were in the tsunami zone assisting with the injured and identifying the impacted areas. Families we had stayed with were gone, favorite restaurants vanished into the sea, fales, beaches and even the road in places had been destroyed. Rivers channeled the water well past the coastal area and villages with no fringing reef were hard hit.  Fish gasped for breath on land while cows floated out to sea.

The death toll two days later was 100+ and counting with many more missing and 100s injured.  More than 30 villages have been impacted, some with damage to only a few buildings while others are totally destroyed.  A full accounting of the damage and those lost is at least a week away but the prime minister puts a preliminary damage estimate at about 100 million tala (30 million USD).

Right now I’m engaged in identifying the extent of the damage, helping with transport and supplies where I can. Short-term relief is being handled by the Red Cross, the government of Samoa and supported by international aid.  Much like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami the long-term recovery prospects are a major worry.

The major tourist beaches, accommodations and resorts are gone or badly damaged, some families have lost everything; one man I talked to lost nine family members so recovering from this disaster will take years and may not be possible for all.

There is still hope for some families; neighbors and strangers saved lost children, some people who were swept out to sea wound up bruised and alive in nearby villages and a whole boatload of surfers watched the wave hit the beach from the safety of their boat. The beauty and tranquility of Samoa will return but for now grieving and rebuilding will be the focus.

(Oregon State University is reaching out to campus community members with roots in the Pacific Islands. There have been several small events for Polynesian students following last week’s events, and ISOSU and the International Resource Center are looking into a fundraising effort for relief in the area)

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