Its 10:30pm and the house is asleep. Im trying to ‘debrief’ my brain from today. Spent the morning cooking. We went out to the Tsunami area at about 12:30. Took 45 min to get there. Tai Tauilili drove our dyna with Sio – loaded with coolers of hot chicken soup, drinking water, 70 loaves of bread, 250 hot dog sausages, paper cups etc. Peta, Henry T, and two other friends rode with them. I had Kristen T. and Sade in my car. People wanting to help helped cook the food. Mum. Kristen. Rebecca Lolo. Peta. Another one of my dream teamers, Tania Mitchell. Henry Tunupopo, Kristian Scanlon, Sita.
It was eerie. Up until right before the aleipata zone – Samoa looked totally and completely ‘normal’. People playing volleyball. People gardening etc. One minute we were in tropical paradise. The next it was hell. Im sure you’ve seen the footage on tv by now. Its truly horrific up close. The road is clear all the way round the island – lots of big machinery has been working overtime to clear roadway thru wreckage. The sea has claimed the land right up to the road now. Houses, shops etc that once lined the road are a mass of rubble. In some sections they are trucking in loads of sand and stone to reinforce the road so cars can fit thru safely. We only drove a few 100 meters into the zone before pulling over and starting the first serving out of soup and sandwiches. That was the pattern for the rest of the afternoon. Drive a little ways. See people. Stop and offer food. As soon as they heard we had hot food, people came from all directions. We were feeding EPC crews trying to put up new poles and restore power, police teams searching through mess for bodies, people looking for family members, health workers. A woman sitting under a tree on a broken bucket – waiting ‘for them to find my baby. O lo’u sister ma lana tama. All dead.’ she said. A man who wolfed down two hot dogs and refills of soup before describing their escape in the hilltop behind the mangrove swamp, climbing trees, hanging on. Now searching for his wifes family. Cousins. A brother. Only a handful of ragged children around to give the candy and Petas homemade choc chip cookies to. My brain kept screaming – ‘The children? Where are all the children?’Reminded me of the child catcher scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They’re gone. All gone.
There was a distinctive smell all along the route. Not immediately one of decay. More a stale, dank wet seaweed smell. People wearing masks in pickups going past with cloth covered shapes in the back. Everywhere there were anomalies. Oddities. A cement foundation – smashed brick house on its side beside it. The insides splayed everywhere. Right next door – a open Samoan fale. Still standing. TV sets half buried in the sand. A land cruiser crumpled in half. A boat sitting high in the mangrove trees. Just a month ago, I ran past the new LDS chapel at Malaela where primary children lined the road beside the basketball court and clapped for me. “Go, go, go fa’amalosi!” they cheered. Today theres nothing but rocks and sea where the basketball court was. All that’s left of the chapel is a crooked roof balancing on broken walls. The children? What of the children?
Considering the extent of the damage, I was surprised not to see more crews searching – for the dead, for the living. I never saw any boats checking the water. Only bedraggled pockets of people shifting through the wreckage. My bossy/control freak/manager/know it all - self wanted to back up to those villages with volleyball games and mobilize everyone to get their happy cheerful butts down to the hell zone to start cleaning up and looking for people. Probably just tied into my general feeling of overall helplessness and frustration at how little we could really do to help.
The dusty road was very busy. Trucks piled high with sacks of rice and clothing. Vans filled with health workers. Diplomatic cars inspecting the damage. TV crews galore were at the beach fale stretch at Lalomanu, just past Boomerang. Or whats left of Boomerang. Theyre still trying to establish how many tourists are missing. Unsure how many there were staying at different places to begin with. The first group of survivors flying out tonight. All they want is to go home. To get as far away from here as possible. Hurt and afraid in hospital. One tells of her experience. The wave tore the clothes off their backs. Cut and scraped all over. Survivors found naked and bleeding. At one surf resort, the owner didn’t wait for a warning. As soon as the earthquake hit, he alerted the resort and got everyone out. Also told the village to move as well. How many lives he has saved.
In this climate, decomposition is of course setting in quickly. Searchers say they are finding body parts in places. One body decapitated. Force of waves and debris ripping people apart. Said they will need to bring in DNA experts soon. The bossy/control freak/knowitall in me wanted sniffer dogs. And thermal heat imaging equipment. And all that other stuff they have on CSI. And James Bond movies.
I was humbled by our peoples attitude. I think I would have been cursing the heavens if it had been me digging through my house to find my children. I was almost afraid to offer people food in case they lashed out at me. I imagined ‘Are you crazy! Of course I don’t want a #@&*%# cup of soup – I just lost my entire family here and you want me to have a cookie?!’ Instead, we got nothing but appreciation, gratitude. Blessings. ‘Faafetai mo lou agagalelei’. May the Lord bless you. Thank you so much. You’re so good. Thank you, thank you.’ Everything taken away in one swooping wave and there they were giving thanks. And asking God to bless ME.
People desperate for water. To drink. To bathe. To cook. Big truck from Craig construction went past with 3 vast rota tanks of water. Many people there to help. Two vans - seats piled high with tarpaulin and canned food sat patiently outside a shell of a church. Looking for a congregation to receive it. Pickups loaded with water bottles and masi, sheets and towels. Everybody wants to help.
The nights here have been very cold lately. Im shivering under a blanket and I hope the people of Aleipata have something to keep them warm. The soup is finished. We left the last of the bread and curry at a makeshift hospital at Poutasi. And the rest of the lollipops. They looked rather dismal in their surroundings. Sade said – it feels good to help. Did you see how happy they were to get some food? Im glad she came with us. But im not sure about the happy part. I keep thinking about the woman sitting on a broken bucket under a tree. Waiting. I gave her a cup of soup. Then went back and hugged her. I cried. But her eyes were dry. Do you think shes still waiting there?