Friday, December 3, 2010

What Readers are saying about 'Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi'

I just had to write and let you know that I'm so grateful that the documentation of a sad and tragic time in the history of our people was assigned to you. You're a gifted and brilliant writer. 'Pacific Tsunami' is a remarkable feat given you had only a short time (one year?) to complete it. I absolutely love your writing. 'Galu Afi' should be on everyone's reading list. Congratulations on a great achievement. I look forward to reading more of your work.
Daniel Pouesi, California, USA

"I congratulate you on such a detailed and faith-filled masterpiece of historical documentation. You can be sure that this book will be part of the history of American Samoa."
Most Rev. J. Quinn Weitzel, Bishop of Samoa - Pago Pago.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Look at the tide - it has gone right out!"

Tuluiga Utaulu of Lepa village is a weaver of fine mats. She is the mother of six children. Her husband works in Apia so they only see him on the weekends. Tuluiga’s oldest daughter Lele was working at Seabreeze Resort up the road at Aufaga village. Before the tsunami came.

On that morning, Tuluiga was going to the Vaigalu pool with the other women of her village for the ceremony that marked the completion of fine mats. The earth shook, startling them all as several large rocks dislodged from the hillside and rolled to the road in little rushes of dirt. There was a quiet stillness after the earthquake, moments where Tuluiga could feel the panicked pounding of her heart gradually settle again to its regular rhythm. Then the group started an excited hum of conversation as they discussed the shake, still walking to the pool with rolls of soft brown matting in their arms. It wasn’t long before the women noticed the difference in the ocean. One of the women exclaimed, Eh, look at the tide, it’s gone right out!

The women stopped and stared, puzzled but not afraid. Not yet. Then the ocean began to run back towards them, swift and seething. It grew as it ran, as if a creature unfurling from a prone position. The women barely had time to register, to process what they were seeing, to inhale enough air so they could scream, so they could turn and run. They scrambled for the hill, the stronger healthier ones like Tuluiga helping the older women along. Because the road was right there, safety was within close reach. They made it to the church and stood there in a frightened huddle, watching as the sea swept in to their village. But Tuluiga could not stay there. Because down below in their little house she had left her teenage daughter home alone. Quickly she rushed to one of the shortcuts that curved below the church hall and made her way back down to the shore, halting abruptly when her path was blocked by the raging sea. All the houses below were completely covered, only trees jutted from the brown water that was cluttered thick with debris. And clinging to the branches of one of those trees, was Tuluiga’s daughter.

“She was caught in the branches of the breadfruit tree, I saw her there, trying to climb up onto the hill and crawl. I was so shocked and afraid. I slipped and fell down half into the water, it was like I had passed out. I think it was the pain in my knees when I fell that shocked me up again. I stood up and crossed the water, swimming through all the things that were in the water, like corrugated iron and wood. I got my daughter and helped her back to the path.”

Tuluiga took her daughter back up the hill. They waited there for the water to go down. They were watching when the fire service vehicles came and tried to make their way through their broken road. “The first help we saw after the tsunami was the fire truck…they cleared the road to get through and then an EPC truck came following behind it, those were the first ones on the scene.”

The Utaulu family has moved far inland, up in the hills behind the original Lepa village. A road has been roughly cut into the bush so the relocated families can access their new settlement but the houses built with tsunami aid will be slow to reach them. The disadvantage of belonging to the same village as the Prime Minister who is placing the needs of other worst hit areas above those of his own. As Tuluiga explains, “They came and started digging the foundations for our new house but then they stopped work…they explained to us that they were taking the machines to give assistance to Saleapaga village first because the Prime Minister said to give the assistance to our village last.” It’s the same with the power lines. “They are just starting on our power supply because all the rest of Aleipata is completed and now it is our turn.” Those who complain about ‘favouritism’ for the PM’s constituency have obviously not been regular visitors to the disaster zone. For now, Tuluiga cooks over an open fire shielded from the highland winds by pieces of corrugated iron salvaged from the zone. Her daughters are clearing the tangled grass and weaving coconut leaf blinds for their ramshackle hut. Lele hopes that the Seabreeze Resort will reopen soon and that she can get her old job back. Tuluiga’s other daughter, the one she pulled from the tsunami is still not quite right. “We keep taking her for checkups because now her hearing is not good like it used to be. They told us at the hospital to try and keep her out of the sun.”

The afternoon sun blazes defiantly on the Utaulu’s clearing as we drive away.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What readers are saying about 'Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi'.

Wow. I ordered Galu Afi online and received it last week. I devoured it in 4 days...during which time I shed a lot of tears, had a few laughs, but most of all, felt an overwhelming sense of admiration and love for the brave people of Samoa...some of whom I am supremely proud to call my friends and colleagues. Thank you Lani for an amazing book!
Kate Groves, Australia.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"A wild animal with huge fins, breathing black smoke."

Sapua Toilolo with her son in Malaela village, Aleipata.

There is a beast that crashes through forty-two year old Sapua Toilolo’s dreams. It clambers up out of the morning ocean, over the seawall, and the coconut trees tremble before it’s towering height. It is the color of night and the sea spray at its head, rises like a cloud of smoke. As it advances, it rips the roofs off houses, uproots trees and tramples cars. Its roar is the churning growl of machinery, crashing louder and louder as it draws near, drowning out the terrified screams of those who run before it. It is a beast that killed Sapua Toilolo’s neighbor - her cousin Fa’apopo Touli and six others in their village. It is a beast that has driven the Toilolo family to settle in the plantation bush. It is a beast that troubles Sapua’s sleep and makes her five children wake up early every morning “because if it had come at a time when we were all asleep, we would all have died, so I say to my children, remember what happened, remember what came that day, don’t ever sleep in late, we need to get up early…”

On the day the beast came to Malaela, it was only Sapua and her two sons at home. Her husband was away overseas and the other children had already left for school. Pe’epe’e her eldest boy was preparing to go to the plantation when they heard a ruckus of sound from their neighbor’s house which was closer to the ocean road. “We were sitting there to have our breakfast when we heard people screaming, I thought they were arguing down at Levao’s house because there were people running around and yelling and there we were just sitting in our house unaware of anything. I looked out and saw an old lady running past with some kids. She was only wearing a towel, like she just came from her shower.”

Pe’epe’e ran down to see what was happening, then ran back even faster/quicker. “He said to me to run there’s a big galu, a wave coming.” Sapua’s little son took off immediately up the road beside their house that led inland but Sapua wanted to see for herself what was happening/coming. “I didn’t run at that time, I looked out to make sure my son was away and then I looked out to the wharf and the galu was coming. It was very high and I knew that our houses might get affected because it was coming over the seawall but I thought maybe that was as far as it would go, so I just started walking back on the inland road.”

Sapua still wasn’t too bothered, still she thought the wave would be nothing more than a vaguely annoying surge. Then she turned her head to the left and saw it. The beast. Another wave that was rolling in over the land, travelling almost parallel to the ocean. “It was different to what was coming from the sea, it was much bigger and moving very fast.” Sapua was torn with indecision. Back in the house was a sizeable amount of money, the children’s school fees that she had been planning to go and pay that day. She ran back and had reached the verandah when her son shouted out to her.

“Run! You’ll die if you go back in the house…run!”

Sapua listened to her son. She left the money and began running with him up the inland road. They met other groups of people clustered a short distance in. “They were just standing there, they couldn’t run anymore and they thought maybe they had gone far enough, but I told them, run, be strong, let’s keep going! I looked back and I could see the wave coming and taking roofing iron off the houses like it was paper. So we all kept running.”
The wave caught some of those in her group as they ran. “The wave hit Lele’s house and it was still coming and it got some of us, that’s where I lost Fa’apopo and some others that were running with us as well. That’s what spurred me on. We crossed the bridge that goes over the mangrove stream and got up to higher ground. We stood there looking back, we saw trees being uprooted right in front of us because of the strength of the water. I saw people in other trees trying to pull up their kids to safety.”

Sapua cannot forget what she saw. “The wave that came across the land was like an animal coming up with high fins on each side, I looked at it and it scared me. I said to all those that I was running with ohmigosh, we’re all going to die from what’s coming…because I saw the coconut trees were lower than the wave. It was like a wild animal with huge fins, but it was pitch black and the mist or sea spray that was coming out of it was also black, like the smoke from a umu, it was brownish-black.”

That night the Toilolo family slept in the bush. “Once the fear had left us I went back down to the shore to see if there was anything to salvage from our house, but it was too late, everything was useful was already taken by the scroungers and they even took all the big fish as well.”

Sapua’s little son is still unwilling to return to the coast. “When the tsunami was over, I tried so hard to get him to come with me to have a look at the aftermath but he said no, no let’s not go down there, we’ll die down there. I kept telling him there was no more tsunami but he said no. Finally, a leader from our church took him for a ride to the beach in a car and he could see that nothing bad was going to happen. I don’t want him to have that fear.”

Months later though, sitting in her plantation house, Sapua herself still has those fears. Of the wild animal with huge fins that breathes smoke. “We go down to the village to get water and just clean up a bit and then come back here. I still get scared…when I hear machinery making noises because I think the galu’s coming back and I have to get up and look and then I want to hurry and get away from there.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

USA Online ordering of Book now available.

"Pacific Tsunami - Galu Afi" is now available for online ordering anywhere in the USA at the following link.

Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It looked like glass with a fierce animal inside it.

Sally Taiva’asele is seventy-one years old. She is the matriarch of her family in Malaela – her three children, their spouses, and her ten grandchildren all lived together in an assorted cluster of brick houses and open Samoan fales. She is a beautiful woman, long fair hair coiled in a bun, powdery white skin and with an easy gracefulness about her. She has lived in Malaela all her life. There were earthquakes during her childhood that were big enough to leave an impact on her memory. And she can recall other waves coming into her village. But nothing like what happened on September 29th. “Yes, I remember, there were other galu (waves) in the past, but they weren’t big, people just stood and watched them. They didn’t reach the houses, those waves ended at the road.”

Sally is not in the best of health. She has diabetes and tires easily. She is alive today because of her daughter Leata who ran with her and refused to leave her. When the earthquake happened, the two women were the only ones at the Taiva’asele home. The children had already left for school. One son-in-law was away in New Zealand. Another had gone to the plantation. Leata was making breakfast for her mother when they heard the sound of the wave. “The wave made a huge noise. I didn’t see it, but I heard it, it was like machine guns going off in war.”

Leata ran outside to look. “The wave was something so different…it looked like glass with a fierce animal inside it, it was so big, it looked even bigger than the Namua island.”

People were running and screaming. Sally and Leata ran along the front road that lines parallel to the ocean, making their way towards the rough road that led to the plantations.

“I didn’t grab my bag or anything near me, I just crawled outside the fale and then we ran. I had no shoes on, we just ran and I felt I couldn’t run anymore because my feet were sore from running on the sharp rocks, but my daughter kept telling me to keep going, the wave is coming, its coming.”

At the plantation road, the two women turned inland, passing several houses with the roar of the glass animal at their backs. Sally’s strength failed her then. She stopped and told Leata that she could go no further. Leata pulled her to stand beside a knot of trees. The wave would only have been a heartbeat away, but that moment, cowering beside a tree, with the air consumed by the crackling roar of the water as it ripped through Malaela homes – seemed an eternity to Sally.

“I could hear it coming…I said to my daughter, there’s nothing more we can do, this is in God’s hands. If it is His will that we die, then we will die. What can we do? That wave was a killer coming for us. When it reached us it hit me in the back and it was such a powerful force, it was so strong, I couldn’t do anything. I felt my leg hit the trees and it got stuck there and my lavalava got ripped away. Leata was beside me, she was crying and holding onto my top, trying to keep me from going with the wave.”

Sally grabbed onto the nearest tree. Unseen sharp things slashed through her arm and something heavy crushed into her leg, pinning it to the tree. Fallen logs and other large debris began to build up all around the trees, trapping the two women behind a wall of wreckage. They were able to keep their heads above water and once the levels began to drop, Leata renewed her calls for help, someone, anyone, please help them. Sally was in a lot of pain, her arm dangled uselessly now and she couldn’t tell how badly injured her leg was, stuck as it was still, in a mass of house remnants. Finally, men came to pull them free. They had to use bush knives to reach them. “They chopped down the trees and the fue vines next to us – that was the only thing I could see, the fue and boards with nails all around us. Then they took us to dry ground and that’s when I saw how bad my leg was…”

Leata had the usual tsunami cuts and eventual bothersome chest infection – but Sally was in hospital for ten weeks. Her arm will never work properly again and half of her foot was amputated. Neighbours tell us amazedly, you know Sally has only three toes left! There is wonder that anyone could survive such an ordeal. Sally sits in a tsunami relief house, newly built by her church and tries not to remember what happened to her that day. “I don’t think about it, I try to forget about it. There was another woman in the hospital with me who was really affected by the tsunami, she is not right in her mind now. She would scream and swear at all the doctors and they couldn’t do much to help fix her mind. But for me, I try not to think too much about it, the only thing I can’t forget is running from the tsunami…”

Sally knows her family will never forget though. She motions to the cookhouse where her daughter is making the food for the evening meal. The daughter who stayed by her side as the glass beast rushed to devour them. “I know my kids can’t forget this tsunami. They think about the pain I went through and how I survived this tragedy. They worry about another natural disaster like this coming again.”

In Memory of a princely man with a rogueish smile - Sia Solialofa.

A year ago i went to the village of Vaovai in search of tsunami stories. In a rickety little fale in the inland bush, I met a man called Sia Solialofa. A princely man with a rogueish smile sitting in a wheelchair. He welcomed us warmly and sent his family to prepare us a meal. It was raining that day and Sia's son got wet during his dash to the store for pisupo, tuna and more tea. Sia shared his family's story. He had not been at their coast side home when the tsunami hit but his daughter and granddaughter were killed. As he spoke, there was confusion and sadness. "She was a strong woman, tough like a man. And a very good swimmer. She used to go fishing for the family and did all the work in the plantation, i dont understand how she died in the tsunami."

We listened and when the storytelling was done, we ate. We apologetically explained that we could not drink the tea, "because of our religion." He laughed. Pointed at the roof and told us not to worry - "God cant see you, and we wont tell Him!" Together we laughed. Then Sia sent his son out in the rain again to buy large bottles of Coke for us to drink instead. We visited with Sia for an hour. He kept us entertained with a steady stream of jokes and compliments - about whether or not we were single, why we should consider visiting Vaovai more often, about Mormons who didnt waste money on cigarettes like he did, about Mormons who couldnt enjoy a cup of tea ( or a Vailima) like he could...He told us to tell 'that pretty woman that comes on TV, Filomena Nelson" that people are going to listen to her messages better now, now that 29/09 has happened. It was a humbling reminder to me of the beauty and generousity of Samoan hospitality.Our visit with Sia was an enjoyable and memorable interlude in an often exhausting and draining process.

When we finally left, i wished i had had some money to gift him, a small mealofa to say thank you. I told him I would be back with his book one day.

Yesterday it was raining when I went back to Vaovai to take Sia Solialofa his copy of the Galu Afi book. And some money. A small mealofa to thank him for the pisupo. For the laughter we shared. But I couldn't give it to him because he had passed away. A few weeks after our interview, in December 2009. I stood in the rain at Vaovai and cried. Because I didnt know. Because I never got the chance to give him what i promised i would - his story. I left his book with his family.

Thank you Sia Solialofa for being a princely man with a rogueish smile. For giving so generously of your food. Your time and your story.

And I'm sorry. That I came back to Vaovai too late.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Clea Salavert-Wykes Lalomanu Library - a place to fire the imagination and nurture dreams.

Opening of the Clea Salavert Library, Lalomanu Primary School
Matt Anderson, Australian High Commissioner to Samoa
Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I was at a loss, truly, as to what to say this morning. When Cas called to honour me with the opportunity to say I few words, the well was dry. Eventually, I scratched down a few:


It was as I sat looking at the blinking cursor on my screen, that I received a copy of the Samoan Government’s report into the tsunami. The scale of the loss, the measure of endeavour, the accounting for gifts, and the mountains left to climb.

And you know how the Samoan Government chose to make sense from this tragedy? To find beauty amidst the rubble? They quoted from Jorge’s prose, Lalomanu.

Jorge, the Samoan Government took strength from your insights. Courage from your family’s courage. And found wisdom that can only come from one whose loss is so profound, that neither the English, nor the Spanish language has a word for it. As Trudie knows, it is a loss that most often can’t be said. It can only be felt. That was your first gift to the people of Samoa.

And this library behind me is the second gift, a most important gift. To some, libraries are nothing more than a store room for books. For others, they are a place of reprimand. When I grew up, the Christian brothers would send students to the library as punishment. “Mr Anderson, go to the library for the next period!” Now Jordi and Omar, I’m not saying it was the only reason I was naughty in class, but I did enjoy being sent to the library.

Jorge, Trudie and the staff from Amaroo know that it is in libraries that imaginations take flight. It is in libraries that boundaries are pressed. It is in libraries that dreams are nurtured. I commend you for ensuring that this will be far more than a building, but a monument to Clea’s love of learning, and a home for all her hopes, dreams and potential.

Of course, this library did not build itself. Far from the watchful crowd, Jason and Cas Green have nurtured this garden, with the help of Fuataga and Shan, the School Committee and Lalomanu’s gifted artisans. But it is not only mortar holding this project together. In every course of brick is sewn Jason and Cas’s love for you – and for Clea.

The official bit is that I must thank DHL for overloading diplomatic bags for the past 10 months with the gift of knowledge. The vast majority of books in this library were sent here, airfreight, and free of charge. The High Commission’s fire escapes and exit isles are now free of mountains of books, and I have a slim chance of passing the next occupational health and safety audit!

Today we celebrate more than a library. We celebrate a monument to a family’s love for their daughter, sister, niece, student and friend. And we celebrate a living tribute to a beautiful young girl whose spirit will, forever, reside in those who use this library to fire their imaginations and to follow their dreams.

Jorge and Trudie Salavert-Wykes at the opening of Clea's Library.
Photo from Samoa Observer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our stories - a fire of pleading hope.

(Excerpt from the American Samoa launch of Galu Afi.)

Why is it so important to record and share our stories? In answer, I’d like to share with you an account from the galu afi book.

On the first night after the tsunami struck, a mother who had lost her daughter asked of her family a difficult thing – to make a fire in the midst of drowning wet. It was a fire of pleading hope that called to a little girl taken by the wave and still not found. The mother explained, “All the houses were ruined so everyone had gone to stay with their families in other villages. But we were the only ones that stayed here because I wanted my daughter to come home. I told my husband and my kids to make a really big fire so that she can see her way home, so that she wouldn’t be scared in the dark.” Hope burned as a family waited for a daughter that did not return. Her body was found the next morning in the mangroves by Robert Toelupe and tenderly carried to her mother’s waiting arms. I have interviewed more than 150 tsunami survivors but it is the image of this mother which has never left me. A mother sitting beside a fire in the midst of the wasteland that was once her village, not wanting her child to be lost and alone in the dark. This mother’s story has had a profound impact on me and my family. I have five children. When I am tempted to be short-tempered with them, I remember what this mother told me, “Don’t take your children for granted, be with them as much as you can. Appreciate all the time you have with them. Everybody is saying to me, that I’m blessed because now I have a guardian angel in heaven – but I would much rather have my daughter here with me.” I remember her counsel and so I try a little harder to be patient and positive with my children.

This mother asked of me, one thing in return for her story. She said, “I want everyone out there to know how grateful we are for their love and support. There were so many people – even strangers – sending us messages of comfort on the internet and praying for us. I miss my daughter so much, we have fixed up our house but it still doesn’t feel right because she’s not here to share it with us. It helps me to know that so many people out there are caring and hurting for us. There is no way I can thank all these people. They’ve been so supportive to me and my family. Please tell them in your book – thank you.” I promised her I would. There have been many challenges involved with writing this book and whenever I became discouraged while working on this project, tempted to say forget it, I would remember my promise to this mother, And so, remembering that, I would forge on, more resolved to ensure this book was completed. This mother’s story and the story of her love and mourning for her child – is now contained in this book and countless people and their families from many different nations will now be able to share in her sorrow and be profoundly impacted by her experience . I pay tribute to Taitasi Fitiao’s strength and courage in sharing her story. Taitasi – I never met Vaijoresa, but I will always remember your love for her.

Our stories are like a fire of pleading hope lit in the wastelands of half-forgotten things. They can burn brightly in the darkest nights of hopelessness and sorrow. When we remember, and preserve the stories of our loved ones, we honor their memory and the legacies of love they gave us. When we share our stories– not only do we nurture the flames of remembrance - but we also make it possible for others to learn from our experiences. When we share our stories, we can find solace and comfort in others. The accounts in this book are heavy with sadness, loss and suffering. But they are also filled with many examples of great courage, faith and hope in the midst of much adversity. Yes, some of the stories will make us cry – but when we share and listen together, it can make it better

A "recklessly bold" venture - The Book of the Aiga of the Galu Afi.

Oute fa’atulou atu I le Mamalu ma le Paia ua fa’atasi mai i lenei Po:
I Atua Mamana o lenei Maota
I Rangatira ma Ariki o Tagata Whenua o Tamaki –Makaurau ma Iwi Eseese o Aotearoa
I Tupu ma Tamaali’i o Atu Motu Eseese o le Pasefika, ae maise Samoa, Amerika Samoa ma Toga lea na mafatia I le Galu Afi
I Ta’ita’i ma tagata o le laumua nei o Aukilani
I e o lo’o Pulea lenei Univesite, fa’apea faiaoga ma tama’ita’i ma ali’i aoga
I le autusitala ma le aufaitau tusi ua fa’atasi mai
I paolo ma gafa eseese o le Susuga ia Joe Keil ma le Susuga ia Lani Wendt Young
Le Vasa Loloa or the Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest geographical feature.
It influences our planet’s climate and therefore our whole environment. We who live in le Vasa Loloa are of that ocean, and that ocean is us.
The Samoan name for it is: Va = Space Between/Connecting, sa = forbidden or sacred, Loloa = long and vast and ancient. So it becomes The-connecting- forbidden-and-sacred-Space-that-is-long-and-vast-and-ancient. That very name tries to convey the Ocean’s vast and profoundly ancient physical, emotional, and spiritual mana.

One of Samoa’s creation/tupuaga chants about Tagaloaalagi, our Supreme Atua and Creator, creating the world and our islands starts with a description of the most important element in our lives, the Vasa Loloa and the various types of galu and peau, waves, of that sea.

Even though Tagaloaalagi created the sea, the vasa loloa, he had huge respect for its awesome power and, when the galu or peau of the vasa loloa became galu lolo or galu afi, he was even mortally afraid of them.

To traverse the vasa loloa safely, Tagaloaalagi threw down stones from the heavens, and used them as his stepping stones across it. Those stepping stones became the islands we now live on. Like Tagaloaalagi, our ancestors, over the hundreds of years they took to explore the vasa loloa and inhabit our islands, came to have a huge respect for that ocean and its power and learned to live with it and enjoy its magnificent bounty, and be afraid of its ferocious might.
On 29 September 2009, we in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga were again reminded of that terrible might. What a frightening unforgiving reminder!

The beautiful Galu Afi, the Tsunami of Fire, swept in and swept out, killing almost 200 of our loved ones, wrecking our homes, settlements, businesses and plantations, leaving us with our sorrow and pain, and the unrelenting reminder that we must never again forget that Le Vasa Loloa can kill us and destroy every thing that we have built and love.

Telling the story of a major event especially a catastrophic event is a very difficult task. Telling the story of it in ways that will capture the hearts and imaginations and attention of readers is even more difficult. We all tell stories, our lives are made up of stories, but that doesn’t mean we all have the ability and experience to tell stories that will hold a reader or listener spellbound for the duration of our tale.

Our lives are burdened with people who believe they are great storytellers but who bore us with their tales! Libraries are full of memoirs, autobiographies, accounts of events, histories etc which, because they are badly told, are not able to live up to and encapsulate the full grandeur and dimensions of the person or event or history being storied. A story is really the teller and the teller’s telling.
The Tsunami of 29 September, which hit parts of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, was a devastating natural disaster.

It affected the lives and environments of the people in the affected areas, it affected the lives of their countries, and the world at large. Its effects have continued to this day. Needless to say, Honorable Joe Keil’s decision that the story of that tsunami should be recorded fully was a recklessly bold one. And perhaps even more reckless when he decided to ask Lani Young, a writer who’d never written a book before, to write that story and do so within the period of a year! I’ve been writing for almost fifty years, but I would never have accepted such an assignment! Like I was in my youthful and foolishly brave 30s, Lani accepted the challenge and I bow to her for doing so and for succeeding so magnificently.

This large book is testimony to Lani’s drive, focus, perseverance, skills as an exceptional and sensitive researcher and interviewer, and ultimately to her ability to select from, write up, and weave together into a beautifully woven ie toga all the hundreds of stories and information from the survivors, witnesses, rescuers, helpers, aid and government organizations, and so forth.

This book, this ie toga, is now the story of the Galu Afi of Sept 29,2009. Lani lets the survivors speak for themselves in their own individual voices, and together their voices, their stories become an orchestrated choir that comes to vibrant life every time we read this gripping, splendid and moving book.
This book is a tribute to those who died, to their lives and courage, and to their loved ones – their relatives and friends – who now have to live with their profound absences and sorrow.

It is also a tribute to all the fortunate survivors and the people who helped: the rescuers, the health workers, the donors from all round the world, and so forth, a tribute to their courage and selfless dedication and hard work. It is a tribute to the unbreakable bonds/ties of aiga/family/village which took hundreds of years to cultivate and weave and which came into wonderful action during and after this crisis.

It is also a tribute to that drive in each of us to help others in times of trouble, need, and helplessness. In such times strangers come to our rescue, and we help strangers. They risk their lives for us and we do the same for them. This book is testament to that: story after story testify to that. And has resulted in new ties/new bonds, to strangers becoming members of our aiga and we of theirs.

This book therefore is about a new and larger aiga/family which the unforgiving ferocity of the Galu Afi brought into being, an aiga which, according to Lani’s book, is already recovering with newfound courage, strength, determination and hope. And when that aiga reads this book, their book, they will be inspired even further to rebuild and ensure that their children will live proudly beyond the Galu Afi’s destructive power, knowing that mana or power can be both destructive and absolutely creative.

It is a great honour for me to have been asked to launch this memorable book which I have subtitled, for myself, The Book of the Aiga of the Galu Afi. I congratulate Joe Keil and Lani Young on producing and writing it, and wish it every success in its journey into and across the Vasa Loloa and the world.
All of your should buy enough copies for your families and friends.
Ia alolofa Atua o le Pasefika ma fa’amanuia mai I lenei fa’atasiga!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Life is for living. Treasure it.

(An extract from words spoken at the Auckland launch hosted by the Center for Pacific Studies, Auckland University. Oct 7th, 2010)
There were many visitors and tourists from overseas that had been caught in the tsunami. It is a privilege to see some of you here with us tonight. I was at the hospital in Samoa the days after the tsunami – and saw firsthand something of your experience – as you were caught in a strange land by a fierce ocean and left with nothing – for many of you – not even the clothes on your backs. Thank you for sharing your stories of strength and survival with us in this book. I had assumed that visitors caught in the tsunami would never want to return there. Not after their horrifying experience. I was wrong. Survivor stories from visitors are filled with gratitude for the care and compassion they were shown during that difficult time. UK visitor Becky Glew escaped from the wave at Lalomanu and took refuge at the Taufua house on top of the hill. She wrote, “Many Samoans were there bringing us food, climbing palm trees to get us coconuts, looking after the wounded and even building us a toilet outside. And every single one of them was either still waiting for news of family members or already knew they had lost someone. For instance, the young man who led us to safety had found his dead mother moments before – and he spent the whole day lifting the sick, running back and forth to the hospital, cooking for us and helping anyone who needed it. Everyone was amazing.” Last week, flights back to Samoa were fully booked as many tsunami survivors and their families returned for the memorial anniversary. Before sunrise on the morning of the 29th processions of people bearing coconut candles and lanterns, walked along beaches through shattered villages. Survivors from Samoa, NZ, Australia and the UK were there to grieve as one. People who had worked to help with the recovery and rebuilding were there. Ministers led everyone in prayer and hymns filled the morning air, enfolding the empty spaces with love. Crowds gathered outside a hilltop church stood in remembrance of that day when the earth rumbled and the waters raged. Together they watched as the sun burned the sky and a new day dawned.

As families from different nations have mourned as one, new bonds have been forged. Some examples, There is now an escape path cut into the mountainside of Lalomanu – funded by a trust set up in honor of the memory of Mary Ann White – of Raglan, NZ. New gardens are being planted by women in the village thanks to the Hodgins family of Australia as they work with Women in Business to buy tools to sow the seeds of hope. Two families at Saleapaga have new homes – gifted by the Martin family of Matamata who lost their daughters, Petria and Rebecca. At Lalomanu Primary school, there is a new library stocked with more than 4000 books built by family and friends of the 6 yr old from Australia who was killed by the wave. Imaginations will soar and dreams will take flight because of the Clea salavert-Wykes library. I continue to be humbled by these examples of how grief can inspire service and compassion.

There were many people who dedicated huge amounts of time and effort to see Samoa through this disaster and some of their stories are also included in the book. I am in awe of those who worked under very difficult conditions to help others. The Samoan DMO and Disaster Response teams who headed down the hill and towards the sea while most of us were evacuating, running away from the ocean. The nurse on duty at Lalomanu hospital who worked tirelessly to care for the wounded – even after receiving the news that her own 3 yr old son had been killed in the wave at Satitoa. She said – “I kept working. What else could I do? There were so many injured people who needed help.” The international response in the tsunami aftermath was swift as many hearts and hands were moved to help us in our time of need. It is an honor to have some of you here with us tonight. The leader of the first local medical response team, Dr Ben Matalavea said, “There were so many people who came to Samoa to volunteer. We found that the help was quite overwhelming and that really for me it lifted the spirit. How could we be tired when all these people had come so far to try and help us? It was really something. For me, that’s the thing that most touched me.” One doctor explained his reasons for coming to Samoa to assist. I went to school at Avondale College and played in the rugby first fifteen team. I was the only palagi in the forward pack, all the rest were Samoans. They were all my friends and when this tsunami happened, all I could think of were my old mates and their families. So I came.” Tsunami survivors Jared and Netta Schwalger – lost both their children and Jared’s parents in the wave. Netta’s injuries were so bad that there was doubt that doctors would be able to save her leg. She wept as she expressed her gratitude for the plastic surgeons from NZ who skillfully operated four times and ensured she wouldn’t need amputation. “They were so kind, so careful, so nice to me.”

If there is one message I bring to you all from the people of the galu afi it is this – faafetai, faafetai tele lava. The samoan word for gift is meaalofa. Things of love/things from love. Ask survivors about the help they received after their ordeal and they will tell you – there has been so much love that they have been overwhelmed. Rita Romeo of Lalomanu recalls the night after the tsunami hit. “We slept in the forest, we had no blankets. Our clothes were wet. It was very cold and I felt so bad for my children. I sat there with tears looking at my kids asleep on the ground and I thought maybe it would have been better if we had died in the tsunami. I can handle it – but my children…I cried for them. The very next day we got help from the government and from many generous people…clothing and blankets and food. And then in the month after, we continued receiving many gifts from containers overseas. So many things, oka! ” I have visited with survivors in tents from the NZ army. In houses newly built in the inland bush by volunteers from churches, local companies and organizations like Habitat for Humanity. I have driven on roads cut through wild forest, lined with power poles – paid for by tsunami relief funds. I have seen elderly wrapped in quilts – made by schoolchildren in faraway lands. Little children playing with a rugby ball given to them by visiting rugby legends from Australia. Survivor families have shared with me their food – a can of peaches and a container of chocolate pudding – gifts from a partnership of the Islamic Relief and LDS church, flown in on a massive D.C plane from the USA carrying enough food to feed 2,000 people for a month. They have given me water from tanks gifted them by the Red Cross. I have listened to survivors speak of their gratitude for – counselors who came to help heal broken hearts and spirits. For tourists who continue to visit our shores, supporting people as they rebuild businesses and livelihoods. The book speaks of those who fundraised, donated of their time and means, gave of their thoughts and prayers - in other words - the book speaks of you all here tonight.

The stories here are filled with sadness, and immense suffering. Yet they also bear witness of great courage, sacrifice, faith and hope. There is much insight to be gained from the experiences of those who have endured many trials, who have survived the wave of fire. As we honor the anniversary of 29/09, we look to the future with the lessons we have gained from the past. In the words of 16 yr old Aucklander Matt Ansell “The tsunami showed me that if there’s something you want to do in life – something bad like a disaster could happen at any time and take it away, so you might as well live. If you want to do something, you make sure you do it; do it well and do it when you can, as soon as you can. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off.” Wise counsel echoed by another survivor, Becky Glew, who became pregnant shortly after 29/09. She wrote – “this baby is a direct result of the tsunami. Having a baby is something we had talked about but I would put it off as ‘the time wasn’t right’. However, the tsunami made me realize that life is for living, treasure it, there is not a minute to spare…The baby has also made me look to the future instead of dwelling on the horrors of that day and it has truly helped me to move on. I still have fears and nightmares but my recovery from the trauma has been much swifter – it will truly be a magical baby when it’s born.” On the 4th of August, baby Martha Nell Smith was born. That magical baby is here with us tonight, another reminder of the tender mercies and miracles that can be found even in the midst of adversity.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


In Samoa:
*Samoa Money Exchange ( beside McDonalds Restaurant)
*Samoa Stationery Bookstore ( in the Lotemau Center)
*Plantation House, Alafua.

In American Samoa:
*Island Image Store
*Tereza Steffeny Store at the Tafuna Airport
*Christian Bookstore ( Opposite Cost U Less and owned by Pastor Tavai.)

In New Zealand: To be advised.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Galu Afi Samoa Launch

Tsunami survivor Amy Purcell from Malaela and Lani at the Samoa launching of 'Galu Afi'.

Many voices, many hearts and many hands were a part of this book. These are YOUR stories. This is YOUR book. Thank you.

NZ Launch Info

In commemoration of the first anniversary of the devastating tsunami of 29 September, 2009, The Centre for Pacific Studies at The University of Auckland is proud to host the New Zealand Launch of Pacific Tsunami 'Galu Afi', a book by Lani Wendt Young.

Date - Thursday 7 October, 2010
Venue - Fale Pasifika, The University of Auckland
Keynote Speaker - Samoan Author Albert Wendt

By Invitation

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Australia Supports Samoan Tsunami Book

Australia’s support for publishing Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi (Wave of Fire) written by Lani Wendt Young about last year’s devastating tsunami, will give all Samoans further insight into the tragedy and the need to heed the call to be prepared for natural disasters.

Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi, which will be launched next week on the eve of the first anniversary of the tsunami, captures stories of the tragic loss of lives and livelihoods in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, as well as the incredible bravery of survivors and those who responded to the disaster.

Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Matt Anderson said Australia’s support to publishing 5000 copies of Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi is a reflection of Australia’s enduring friendship with Samoa.

“In her book, Lani has captured poignant memories of the devastating tsunami and the journey since. The stories are heavy with loss and sadness but they are also stories filled with courage, hope and strength,” Mr Anderson said.

“And from these powerful stories, there are some key messages we must all heed in the Pacific - we can never be too prepared for a natural disaster and we should head inland and to higher ground following an earthquake.”

“I would like to congratulate Lani on her sensitive, thoughtful and well written account of the disaster and also on her success in winning a Commonwealth writers commendation for her tsunami short story announced last week.”

“Australia is very proud to support the publication of Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi with funds from the Australian Aid Program. We hope this support reminds all Samoans that Australia stands ready to help our Pacific neighbours whenever and wherever there is a need.”

Mr Anderson said in the wake of the tsunami, Australia provided A$12 million to help Samoa, reflecting Australia’s friendship with Samoans and our joint determination to help Samoa rebuild.

Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi will be launched on 27 September 2010. The book will be sold for $50 from Plantation House, Aggie Grey’s Hotel, Aggie Grey’s Resort, and Samoa Money Exchange. All profits from book sales will go to tsunami rebuilding efforts.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'The Beast that Came from the Sea.'

Lani Wendt Young is one of 25 'Highly Commended'writers in the 2010 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Her story ‘The Beast that came from the Sea.’ is one of twenty-five stories selected from more than 2,000 entries to receive a cash prize and will feature on the Commonwealth Foundation website. The 25 stories have been professionally recorded for radio broadcast and will be distributed to radio stations in over 54 countries worldwide with a combined audience of more than 2 billion people. The competition is an annual scheme to promote new creative writing for radio, funded and administered by the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Entry is open to all Commonwealth citizens aged 19 and over to send in original, unpublished short stories. The overall winner for 2010 is Shachi Kaul from India.

Lani’s story is about the 29/09 tsunami that devastated villages in Samoa, American Samoa and the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu. It poignantly captures the terror experienced by many on that day, as well as the long-term impact such trauma has had on those who lost loved ones in this disaster.

Of her achievement, Lani commented, “It’s really exciting to have my writing recognized in such a prestigious international competition. But what really moves me, is to know that thanks to the Commonwealth Foundation, people all over the world will know and understand a little bit more about what Samoa endured on 29/09. My story was inspired by the experiences of several mothers who lost children in the tsunami. As a mother of five, I have great admiration for these women who fought so hard for their little ones and now are trying to rebuild their lives. Everyday they make that decision to keep moving forward, continuing to care for their families in spite of all they have suffered. I pay tribute to them with this story.”

Lani Wendt Young is also the author of the upcoming book ‘Galu Afi’ about the Pacific Tsunami of 29/09 which will be launched here in Apia on the 27th of September. The book will be available for general sale on the 28th of Sept at various local outlets including – Samoa Money Exchange, Plantation House, TV3 Office. The book will retail for $50 and all profits go to tsunami relief and education in the affected areas.

To read Lani's story for yourself, click the link below:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Essential Book Info

Samoa Book Launch:
Date - Monday 27th September, 2010
Venue - Tiafau Fale, Hotel Millenia, Sogi
Keynote Speaker - His Highness the Head of State.
Books will be available for sale at the launch. All those interviewed for the book will receive a free signed copy of the book.
Books will be on sale for the general public on Tuesday 28th September, 2010 at the following outlets:
*Samoa Money Exchange ( Beside Mcdonalds Family Restaurant)
*Plantation House
*TV3 Office
Further local outlets are yet to be confirmed.
Cost: $50.00

Friday, September 3, 2010

An Evening in honor of Robert Louis Stevenson, Tusitala - Teller of Tales.

I was invited to speak about the upcoming book at the annual Robert Louis Stevenon Memorial Gala held at the RLS Museum at Vailima. It was a great opportunity to promote the book and its stories. Thank you Tilafaiga Rex Maughn and the RLS Museum Foundation.
Galu Afi - Wave of Fire
It is no surprise that Robert Louis Stevenson chose to make Samoa his home as the Samoan people are a poetic and lyrical people and great storytellers themselves. Speak with the survivors of the 2009 tsunami and they will tell you...

What a tsunami looks like. “It was a beast that leapt up out of the sea and ran towards us. It was a demon, a hungry animal. It was the color of night and its foam crest was black smoke. It moved like fire across the land. I looked and all I saw was death coming.” What a tsunami sounds like. “It roared like a hundred bulldozers with gears stuck and grinding in first gear. It was a swarm of jet planes taking off. It was the sound of war and guns. It growled as it smashed houses and threw cars.” Why a tsunami is called ‘galu afi, wave of fire?’ "The water was hot. It brought many dead fish. The water burned inside my chest. It made me sick. My skin was scraped off from being dragged in the wave, like I was burned. It killed all the trees and the grass. The path of the wave in our village is all dry and dead. Now I know what the elders meant when they warned me about galu afi. No wave brings a fire except for this one.”
A week after the tsunami, Mr Joe Keil approached me. He said someone needs to gather the stories of the tsunami, to record them – while they were still very raw, fresh. Before they were purposely forgotten as people tried to move on, to rebuild their lives. Joe had a vision of a book,that would speak with the voices of those who had lived through the 2009 Pacific Tsunami and tell of those who had died,those who had worked to rescue, heal and rebuild. I was asked to take that vision and give it substance. And so it was decided. The book would be a narrative story weaving together many different people’s experiences. It would include survivor stories from American Samoa and Tonga. It would be a non-profit project - Joe would personally fund the research/writing costs and all proceeds from the books sale would be put into a tsunami aid fund. We set a date for the release of the book – one year after the tsunami. (and then i started freaking out...because I'd never actually written a book before AND because that didnt really give me very much time to get it done!)
In October 2009, I started gathering people’s stories. Lying in hospitals, camped in tents, gathered in rough shelters in the mountain bush or sitting beside the new graves of their loved ones – survivors everywhere paused in their recovery and rebuilding to share their stories. I travelled to American Samoa several times to interview survivors there as well. All the interviews were audio recorded and then transcribed and translated to English. Initially, I had worried how people would react when asked to share their stories. In particular, those who had lost loved ones and homes. What if they got angry at my visit? What if they found my questions offensive and intrusive? What if they didn’t want to talk about the tsunami because it was too painful? Yet, time and again, I found that people were more than willing to talk. Many were grateful for the opportunity to share their experiences. For some, the interviews were therapeutic. People would talk for an hour or more. I was humbled by the reception I received. Everywhere, survivors welcomed us into their homes and shelters with gracious hospitality and offered us the finest of whatever they had. (I have had biscuits in saleaumua, niu in satitoa, hot baked umu kalo in lalomanu, pineapple in saleapaga, pisupo in vaovai, tuna and rice in poutasi – to name a few) People relived the nightmares of that day in September with strength and courage and in this book, they have entrusted us with their sorrows.
There were many visitors and tourists from overseas that had been caught in the tsunami. It was a challenge to track them down but I was able to do so with the assistance of the Aust and NZ High Commission offices here. A common theme in their stories was gratitude for the way Samoans had taken care of them after the tsunami, when many were left with nothing, not even the clothes on their backs. Its impossible to listen to their accounts and NOT be impressed by the many examples of caring and compassion shown during that difficult time. Nynette Sasse of the Samoa Hotel Association went out to the disaster zone right after the tsunami. She saw tourists wearing colourful mu’umu’us and Sunday best puletasi and Shirts.“These people had climbed up out of the tsunami completely naked. As soon as the villagers saw them, they ran up with their best clothes to dress them. I was so humbled to see how our people took care of the visitors. I was so proud at that moment to be a Samoan!” I know how Nynette feels. As I have listened to the survivor stories of our friends from overseas – I have gained a greater appreciation for the generousity and hospitality of our culture. I was surprised to find that most visitors who lived through 29/09 – actually wanted to return to Samoa. I thought they would have been put off forever. In the words of a 12 yr old boy from Auckland, NZ, Max Wilson –
“Samoans were the kindest people I have ever met. On that day they looked after us before they looked after their own families. They lost everything and most had lost family and friends. We are collecting money to help them rebuild their lives. We are returning back to Litia Sini once it’s rebuilt. We want to go back for opening night.”
There were so many people who dedicated incredible amounts of time and effort to see Samoa through this disaster – both local and those from other nations – and some of their stories are also included in the book. I am in awe of those who worked under very difficult conditions putting their own lives at risk, to help others. The FESA worker, part of the first team out to Aleipata, who worked through debris and muddy water to search for the living and the dead – all the while not knowing if her own six children on the island of Manono were alive or dead. The DMO and Disaster Response people who headed down the hill and towards the sea while most of us were evacuating, running away from the ocean. The book pays tribute to them all. One survivor wrote - “We want to say how fantastic the Samoan fire service was, and the medical teams. They were there so quickly. Anyone who ever says that there was not enough fast action after the tsunami – they’re wrong. It was unbelievably good, especially for a country like Samoa where you wouldn’t think they would be that well organized. If we had that sort of reaction time in New Zealand, you’d be thrilled. It was sensational. I take my hat off to whoever helps organize Civil Defence in Samoa.”Graham Ansell, New Zealand. The book also tells of the amazing relief work carried out by many nations and international organizations.
It is now a year later. It has been a long, challenging journey – but thanks to the help and support of many - the project is now complete. The printing of the book was made possible by the generous support of the Australian government AID Program who have paid for the first print run of 5000 books. The book will be launched here on the 27th of Sept. Further launches will take place in AmSamoa, NZ, Australia and the US. I want to emphasize that this book is NOT a comprehensive, all-knowing account of the tsunami as the stories are only a fragment of people’s experiences. There is so much we can learn from this disaster and I call on families and communities here, and in AmSamoa and Tonga to continue to seek out the stories of the tsunami.
The stories in the ‘Galu Afi’ book are heavy with loss, sadness and suffering. But they are also stories filled with courage, hope, compassion and strength. It was a privilege to record them, to write them, and to share them in the upcoming book. I hope others will find them as inspiring and uplifting as I have

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Launch

I am thrilled ( and immeasurably relieved)to announce that the book -
Pacific Tsunami - 'Galu Afi'
will be launched in Samoa on the 27th of September, 2010. It will be followed by similar launches in American Samoa,Australia and New Zealand. Further details will be posted.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How ready were we?

Saleapaga, one hour after the wave.Photo by Bharat Chovan
Early in 2009, there was an opportunity to practice the evacuating – for real. On the 19th of March, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit 130 miles southeast of the Tongan capital Nukualofa and a tsunami warning was issued by the PTWC for surrounding islands. Including Samoa. US Peace Corp volunteer Sara Reeves was teaching when they got the phonecall from the Peace Corp office at 8:50am. “Cale came into my classroom making the finger across the throat gesture that initially led me to believe that the power must be out at his school, but instead meant that I should stop teaching, drop everything and evacuate.” They warned the vice-principal. “He told me that he already knew. I told him schools were supposed to be evacuating, but he didn’t seem to be too concerned.” The other staff showed little interest either. The two were the only ones from their coastside school to head inland on their bikes. They met other vehicles and some schoolchildren on the road headed in the same direction. Calmly and slowly. One family drove to the lowland grocery store first – “to buy snacks for the children and a newspaper so the morning wouldn’t be wasted”. Another only went to the evacuation point because their six year old daughter was frightened and wouldn’t stop harassing them about the “terrible tsunamis’ her teacher had taught them about.

In Tonga that morning, people didn’t seem to be too bothered either. A police spokesman said residents weren't taking the warning seriously. He was quoted by a UK newspaper, “People are out on the roads, laughing at the warning. They are not moving from the coast even though there has been a strong warning of a tsunami.”

Back in Samoa, the Reeves biked four miles back to school when they got the message that the warning had been cancelled. “Absolutely nothing had changed at school while I was gone and there was no reaction whatsoever to my sudden disappearance and bike ride to Faleata.”

At Fagaloa Bay on the far eastern tip of Upolu, unusually high wave heights were recorded. The sea ran in to swish through several beach fales, but no houses were damaged. And nobody was hurt. Hardly anyone anywhere else even registered that the sea had risen. People shrugged. ‘See, what’s all the fuss about? Those palagi say tsunami when it’s just a little galu lolo. A few big waves. It’s nothing.’

On the morning of September 29th were people remembering that day earlier in March? As DMO staff scrambled to contact the two telecommunication companies to send the SMS and as Chief DMO Filomena Nelson and FESA Commissioner Tony Hill were flying through traffic at Vaimoso?

As Tony hit the sirens at approximately 7:10am and radioed his staff to begin the evacuation of all low lying areas? As the alarms went on at the fire stations in town, Faleata and at the airport?

In those next minutes, Filomena was merely a passenger as Tony drove down every side road with the siren blaring and the PA system shouting, telling everyone to get out and get up.

Tsunami. Evacuate.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"It really killed me seeing him go."

There were those who had to rush not away from the ocean – but towards it – as they moved to ensure the wheels for a disaster response were in motion. Palantina Toelupe is the CEO for Health in Samoa. She lives in the coastal village Vailoa, on the outskirts of Apia with her two sons. The younger son Vaitoa is Filomena Nelson’s right hand at the DMO office. As the earthquake built in intensity and then shuddered to a still, Vaitoa yelled for his mum and brother to run. “Mum, there’s going to be a tsunami. You’ve got about five minutes, you’ve got to run, you’ve got to go NOW!” Palantina ran but was bewildered to see Vaitoa accelerating in his car for the opposite direction. “Where are YOU going?” His reply clamped her with a cold fist of fear. “I have to go to Mulinu’u, to the Met office! I have to report, to get the computers up.” She clearly remembers that awful moment. “It was one of the most horrible decisions any mother could make, knowing that you were supposed to run for your life and yet your son is going towards this supposed problem…It really killed me seeing him go. I ran and took his older brother with me and we were the first ones to get up to Faleata, that’s how quickly we evacuated…but when we got up there, I stopped and said to myself, what am I running for? What about my job? I’ve forgotten everything! And so we turned around and came back home and when I got back, people were just starting to run – that’s how early we ran. We got to the house, quickly changed and we went straight to the hospital. I got there and people were asking, what’s going to happen next?And I said, prepare – get ready for the emergency.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Helter skelter in the summer storm." Gillian Brown's Survivor Story.

Gillian Brown receives care from Aust medics.
On 29/9 oblivious to what would happen, folk went about their morning holiday business. The Tafua family prepared for another one of their delectable community breakfast feasts. I was showering in the ablution block when suddenly everything started to shake. I thought the roof would come off. The past two nights had been stormy. As I live in tropical Queensland I assumed it was similar to a cyclonic wind. I was wrong. It was a tremor. An earthquake. I gave no thought to the imminent Tsunami. A Swedish lady, a German guy and I spoke. We were relieved we were standing on solid ground and it had not separated. How do you know about something if it is out of your realm of experience or concept? Everyone was in a different location and from what I now believe everyone responded differently.

I went back to the Fale and continued to pack for our road trip north to La Vasa. I was carrying my back pack to our hire car when I heard the desperate screams to run for high grounds. I wasn’t sure why but I knew we had to do so. Rob wasn’t in sight. I ran back to the Fale to warn him. I will never forget the mental snapshot I have from the Fale balcony of a young Samoan lad running along the beach screaming at people to go to higher ground. Also the distant view of the two sets of women who unwittingly lolled in the water. I believe two of those four are now sadly dead. I am presently haunted by thoughts of time, space, speed, what if...The words ‘helter skelter in the summer storm’ come to mind.

Rob would not come immediately. He continued to pack his day pack. I expressed the urgency of the situation. Finally we tried to leave the Fale through the front door. This was not to be the case. The clouds of whitewash consumed us from the front and underneath the floor boards. Oh f--- expletives expressed. Rob pushed me to the bed away from the open door. Within the Fale I felt trapped as though I was in a scene from the Wizard of Oz whereby Dorothy floated away in the house. I recall trying to kick the walls away with the hope we would climb through the louvres and escape. I was aware that we needed to prevent the walls from crashing in on us. Odd what you do. The wave was upon us. We were fighting for air space within the confines of the Fale. That first wave took us under and seemed to spit us out quickly.

The battle was still not over. The sea presented another challenge. I was still inside the walls of the Fale. I remember being dragged up with two huge poles firmly squeezed around my neck. It felt as though my neck would snap and fall limp. I apparently contorted my body and kicked the poles apart. Rob and I were in the same space calling for each other. Suddenly large sheets of metal appeared above us. They slid towards us. I thought I was going to be decapitated.

The second wave followed. I can’t speak for Rob but it took me under. I lost him. Initially I fought. Day pack was pulled from my arm. I struggled. Finally I couldn’t take in any more water and I made a conscious decision that if I was about to die I wanted to do it so peacefully. The see-through pool green colour surrounded me and was cleansing. I completely let go, allowing the water to do what it needed to with me. My body was outstretched. I was calm. It was an incredibly beautiful and serene experience. I died.

I have baulked at writing the next section. So many feelings and emotions are attached to survival, trauma and tragedy. I remember so much. I replay the events on my internal movie screen. I was told the wave was travelling at 964km per hour and lasted for approximately 7 to 8 minutes. I had no idea of length of time. There was a third wave. I have absolutely no recollection of it or anything else until I was simply present amongst the debris. No explanation. Just there.

The scenario was and still is incredulous. Finding Rob was foremost on my mind. I screamed for help. I scanned the destruction. It was surreal. Scared, weak. Dragged myself onto a platform. Perched. People started appearing in the water. They were calling for each other. Stranded! A seemingly insurmountable, impassable amount of debris. Urgent need to find others and help them to safety. In shock! Horrible! Survivor mode was necessary. Life was moving in front of us.

A small Samoan child scrambled out of the water to the muddy bank. I will never forget the look on his face. A waif of a child who showed the way. To my right a Samoan woman stood with her baby amongst the chaos. There were so few of us. 50 metres back to my left Rob screaming that he had a bone poking through his leg. Behind me Martina was calling help. Joseph her partner scrambled toward her. Charlie emerged injured and immediately went to the aid of the woman and child. In front of me there was a yellow canoe which became a water stretcher. I carried Martina to the bank first. Hearing our screams for help a young Samoan man ran into the carnage to help me place Rob onto the canoe. Together we balanced it and dragged him to shore.

Our next hurdle was to climb a cliff which was a zigzag path seeming to be about 300metres.
There was an urgent murmur that another wave was coming and we had to run for high ground. We were all injured. Some more so than others and some suffering excruciating pain which was at times debilitating. It was a tale of extraordinary human endurance and support. Together Samoans and foreigners coaxed, motivated, carried and coerced each other to the top of that cliff. It was amazing and unforgettable..

There is a saying that “pigs fly”. Martina, Joseph and I discovered this not to be true. We remembered they rolled like bowling balls ready to skittle human ten pins. What else was nature going to bring? I don’t know what happened to the pigs but thankfully they didn’t hit us.

Sadly the saga did not end at that point. Life emerged at the top of that cliff. A Fale and local farm were steps away. Water. People. Road. Urgency to find higher ground. The ambulant were without shoes. Bits of bandage wrapped around their feet. Utilities carried the injured. Wailing. Screams of pain and distress. Disbelief yet reality creeping in. Folk in shock not sure what to do. Instinct crept in. Surrounded by death and loss. Breathe.

Next was the Lalomanu Medical centre. Survival to be embraced. Finding those who were alive. Relief and tragedy intertwined. Stories told. Blood. Bandages. Injuries recognised. Suffering. Missing children, relatives and mates. Not knowing. Emotional torment. Wailing. Breathe. Medical staff and volunteers compassionately, tirelessly, willingly gave of themselves. Grateful. Thankful.

The Samoan Government sent out a warning that another wave was about to hit. We needed to evacuate the Medical Centre and again relocate to higher ground. Those who could walk did. Injured were transported in utes and trucks. The Tafua family’s house which was at the skeletal stage of construction was generously opened to us. A place of shelter.

It was at this point I became aware that in times of crisis we all bring our different personalities to the fore. Folk took on different roles. Preparing the space for injured. Human chain moving timber. Clearing water from the concrete. Putting down mats. Making sure the injured were as comfortable as possible. Blankets, tarpaulins, water, carrots, Sao biscuits, government register of names. Organising, managing, motivating, nursing. Leaders and doers. Cava man contacting government agencies. Feeling of importance. NZ doctor at the site. People in shock. Sitting wailing. Grief magnifying. Trying to make sense of what had happened.

At this point I was still ambulant. My ribs were broken with deep cuts to the right foot and arm. I could feel the lumps on my head growing. Drying blood. Wound swabs on the ground. Infection growing. Carer mode in place. My first priority was Rob however there were many in need. Horrific stories started to unfold. Children had been ripped out of their parents grasp and taken. Gone forever. Bodies not found. Grief. Too horrible to write. I remember -

*As soon as water arrived, I grabbed it. Knew we’d need it later. Girl photographing
*Water – ambulance – Richard – make sure Robs medical needs are attended to – stay strong -
*Medical centre – swapping patients – some people angry we had to wait - that pregnant woman is now dead.
*Transported to Apia via Lalomanu – destruction – debris – cars not making way for ambulance – now I know some were looters but many were trying to locate the dead– village’s gone, people trying to sweep up an insurmountable amount of debris. Futile Destruction. Despair.
* Ambulance had a flat tyre – transported by ute to hospital – me with Heather Dixon – consulate advisor - mayhem.
*Outpatients – Rob bed opposite – wounds stitched – scared frightened – urgent – separated from Rob – x-ray. Met 50ish Kiwi women who survived swim – Had been in a tidal wave in Hawaii 2 years prior –was in same place as 20 year old girls who died.Pediatric ward turned into surgical ward
*Sam - beautiful Samoan lad whose mother and sister had died and his dad lying in bed with terrible wounds, Sam bought me a cup of coffee, such a generous gesture and it tasted so sweet - people in shock, our bottle the drinking only water for everyone. Ward filling up, toilet floors covered with bloody water, washing people, Rob turning white with blue lips, oxygen mask. *Media crews constantly looming and wanting stories.
*Survivor TV show Drs volunteering time and wound dressings, Samoan nurses doing 24 hour shifts, Setting up a functional ward within 24 hours, an amazing achievement considering many of those nurses didn't know where their loved ones were
*Australian guy who was a volunteer - we had met in supermarket two days prior - now re-meeting under horrible circumstances. He gave us 10ST and NZ Dr gave us 20ST, egg sandwich, coke and water. I was finally getting some treatment to my wounds which just seemed to grow with infection.
*Fa'afafine nurse ‘a woman’s work is never done’.
*Advised that Australian Gov’t would get us home in the next 24 hours. Bill Griggs team arrived with medical supplies. Ambulant were flow back to Oz first. Makeshift ward fully functioning with ward rounds within 24 hours. No sleep. Painful ribs, wounds growing, exhaustion, shock. Samoans give us biscuits and apples. Samoa Survivor reality TV show doctors help and give medical supplies. Overseas news teams everywhere. All wanting to grab a story.
*Gillian and Gary. Distraught over death of their son Alfie. So sad. Claire identifying her friend Vivien in the makeshift morgue. Sorrow. Charlie on her own. Washing the injured. Given clothes from volunteer agencies. Sarong toothpaste and soap. So generous. Shower.Given contact details for relief agency. Long day. Ask Nz Dr to look at my wounds. Less ambulant and very painful. Wounds growing.
*Advised we would be transported home that day. Relief as we were worried that Rob would be operated on in Samoa. Fear of infection and the unknown.
*Comforting each other. Samoan lament which resonated throughout the ward. 6 Aussies transported to the airport to catch C170 Hercules flight. Rob and I separated. Scared and relieved to be going home. Flight late by a couple of hours. Rob on morphine. All of us carried by stretcher onto flight. Fantastic Drs and nurses. Finding veins.

Story still continues and still trying to keep my head above water.
Gillian Brown

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I just cried because I had lost hope.

Tafi Sang Yum at the new Saleapaga inland.
In Samoa, the elderly rarely live alone. The family will ensure that someone stays with them to make their food, help with chores, and listen to their stories. To be their child. Someone young. Usually single. Someone strong. A grandchild, a cousin, a nephew. Someone like Tafi Sang Yum. Twenty-three years old. With tattooed bronze arms that paddle in their spare time for the National Outrigger Canoeing team. When they weren’t digging taro or making fa’alifu for his grandparents, Mata and Su’e Esera.

The Esera’s were in their seventies and enjoying the simple rewards of a lifetime devoted to hard work and raising their family. Their eight children were all grown, educated and working – contributing to their parents retirement. They all worked in Apia - one son was a police officer assigned to the Nafanua Patrol Boat. That September he was overseas on marine police training. Tafi was the chosen grandson who lived with Mata and Su’e in their seaside home. They had three beach fales they would rent to visitors. And a taro plantation. A car. When Tafi’s paddling team would come for a Saturday swim, the Esera’s would make them a proverbial feast. Tender-baked fish that melted in your mouth, steaming hot taro that only the day before had been in the black earth, thick sweet koko from beans that Su’e herself had roasted and ground. Tafi was their child. In that house there was much love and affection.

When the first wave came, Tafi was sweeping leaves in the back yard. His grandparents were in the house. They tried to get to the car but the water was already upon them, swishing around their legs. Again, the size of the initial wave was deceptive. Su’e called out to her husband to come back in the house to shelter from the wave there. Tafi and Mata ran back inside – just before the next wave hit the house.

“The wave took the car. We were bracing ourselves inside the house…I thought the house would stand. I tried to hold on but I felt like my hands were getting electrocuted. I let go and the water washed me out. That’s when we were separated”

Tafi is strong – but the wave was stronger. The house was destroyed. “My body felt like I was being beaten by someone because I was battered by trees and rubbish in the water. My body felt numb and I couldn’t do anything. The wave took me out with it and I hung on to a coconut tree trunk that was floating. Then when the wave went down, I swam back to the shore.”

Tafi stood alone.“ I stood there and looked to where my house used to be and I couldn’t see my grandparents anywhere. I just cried at that time because I had lost hope.”

Mata Esera was found several hours later but when nightfall came, Su’e was still missing. “On Wednesday morning we came back early to look for my grandma. We found her just after 8am behind another family’s property because most of the stuff from our house was found there and that’s where we found my grandma buried under corrugated iron and her skin had turned black. Like she was burned.”

Tafi’s uncle Ofisa came home in time for his parent’s funeral. Crisp, white dress uniforms filled the church as the marine police paid their respects.

Two months on, Tafi helps his cousins build their home in the Saleapaga bush. And clear land for the new taro plantation. Grief is edged with guilt. He is the chosen grandson of Mata and Su’e Esera. Chosen to be their child. Chosen to take care of them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We just want to go home.

Injured are airlifted out by the RNZAF.
When people are hurt and afraid, all they want is to get home. As fast as possible. Foreign nationals critically injured in the Samoa tsunami were airlifted out of Samoa. One woman remembers talking to the injured tourists in the hospital the morning after the tsunami. “They were so polite and appreciative of everything we were doing for them. We asked them if they needed anything else and they said, no, no we’re fine… But then, the first medical team arrived from Australia. They walked into the ward and as soon as they spoke to these tourists, those girls just burst into tears, they said, please, please can you help us, please get us out of here,we just want to go home. My heart just went out to them, I cried inside for them.”

The first airlift went out on Wednesday afternoon, the last on Friday. Aussie paramedic Steve Williams helped get the patients ready and moved out to the helicopters that would ferry them to the international airport some distance out of Apia. “The evacuation team were fantastic. Their attitude with the patients was really good – like if it was someone who was a bit large, they’d lift them on the stretcher and they’d all scream and grunt and carry on joking, overemphasise it, get the patient laughing. They actually played around with the patients and tried to make it more enjoyable for them, showing humor in what was a really scary situation for some of them.”

The helicopters landed in a small grassy patch between the emergency morgue and the wards. “The last lift was 8:30 at night, pitch black and so the pilot flew in blind and watching them come in was just magnificent. They had to land in this small space and it’s not even flat, there’s a dip in the ground and they landed in the dip, and I’m going geeze! Even in daylight it was pretty impressive and you think back and you’re just so impressed with what these pilots did. I watched all the patients go and it was a really nice feeling when the last chopper took off that night, knowing everyone was on their way home to their families.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The most painful thing.

Sina Ale kisses baby Jai Trafford on holiday at Taufua Beach Fales.
Taufua Beach Fales was started back in 1970 by the patriarch of the family, Taufua Leifi. His daughter Faafetai (better known as ‘Tai’) explained, “It started out as fales that our family used for resting on Sundays after lunch, we’d go to the beach and sleep there. Then we started having tourists come in asking if they could rent the fales for a day or two and we’d allow them.” And so it began, modestly, with a few huts on the white sand and over the years it grew. In 1999, Taufua Snr handed over the business to Tai and her husband Sili Apelu. Initially there was a temptation to completely change the look of the place, to do away with the beach fales and build a more Western style resort. “But we thought it would be very un-Samoan to do that. We decided to maintain the beach fales but to at least make them more comfortable for the tourists. Over ten years, we have built on slowly, adding new fales with the availability of funds…that has been a blessing in disguise because it has been a time for us to learn and to nurture our workers and that is where our strength is. I think what makes this place special is the atmosphere that we created. Guests always feel at home as if this is their home as well. We make them feel very welcome and we see that in the repeat guests. Many of them return, its like friends and family coming back. Of course, Lalomanu has its own beauty, like the sand and the clear blue lagoon and all those things, but service – quality service and the attitude towards the tourists is what makes it special.”

New Zealander Sara Trafford delighted in that family atmosphere. “What really stood out for me was how great everyone was with my son – from the ladies in the office, to the young men waiting tables – everyone helped to look after him and gave him loads of cuddles and hugs. They would often come and whisk him away from me for a walk so I could eat my dinner, go snorkeling or just have an hour by myself, it was wonderful! Even the night watchman would go and sit outside my fale in the evenings after I put Jai to sleep and then run to the restaurant to get me when he woke up for a feed. When I would get up in the night to soothe Jai, the night watchman would shine his torch in to make sure we were both okay.” Tai’s sister-in-law Sina helped in the business. She, had three little ones of her own, the youngest - Etimani Jnr, was the same age as Jai and the two babies would bathe in a plastic tub – one rosy-cheeked peaches and cream, the other sugary cinnamon and raisin cheerfulness.

On 29/09 fourteen members of the Taufua family were killed in the tsunami, including all three of Sina Ale's children.

Sili says of 29/09, “The loss of the children is the most painful thing. The elderly had lived their lives, but the young kids were so helpless, nobody could help them. Our nephews and nieces, even though they had their own parents they call us mum and dad because we look after some of them. They would get up early in the morning and come to our room, mum, mum, hungry, fia ai. The physical association with the kids, every morning, every evening, they would always be asking us for something…they would come looking for us. We’re missing them, because even though we believe in God and we are sure they are in a better place, sometimes there’s a feeling of emptiness, not being able to see them anymore.”

"I knew they were past helping."

A doctor sent to Lalomanu Hospital was thirty-one year old Teriki Puni. “It was shocking to see how severe the disaster was – you really felt helpless with the amount of people coming and bringing the dead and asking if you could do something…many of them just broke down and cried, they knew that there was nothing to be done but I think they just wanted to be told, they wanted that reassurance that nothing could be done. Can you help my baby? And you saw this baby was just completely purple and you open up their mouth and there’s just debris and everything, it was just covered in rubbish. I knew they were past helping. It was quite heartbreaking just to feel like you’re not able to do anything. But for those who were severely injured but still alive, you could do something and just try and stabilize them before you rushed them off to National.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"They were relentless." After. Thoughts. Vaughan Simpson.

Photo courtesy of Pele Wendt.
There are those, who at the first hint of tragedy, will rush with cameras and recorders – to get the story. It’s their job to take the photos. Of headless houses. Crumpled trucks. Dead people floating in a sobered ocean. The photos that will move us. Inspire us. Horrify us. It’s their job to get the story. They film the mother weeping as she clutches a baby covered in bruises. They ask her what happened? They zero in on a man who grips the fence posts for support as he tries to process seeing his wife crushed underneath an angry barrage of debris. They ask him what happened? Tell us, tell the world… They watch the man who finds the body of his mother in a cluster of fallen trees, watch as he weeps, hugs her, takes off his lavalava and covers her from the sun, shooing away the flies. They watch and through their lens – we watch. Curious, concerned and captivated. On 29/09, the world wanted to know what was happening on this cluster of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And local media were rushing to respond. TVOne and TV3 Samoa both had teams out in the disaster zone on the first day. International media were mobilizing and Australia had the first overseas news team arrive in Apia on the eve of 29/09, quickly followed by many from other countries.

Some of the media proved to be a challenge for the search and rescue teams It is difficult to report on tragedy when it is so raw. One treads a fine line between compassionate concern and invasive scrutiny. To reconcile the ‘public’s need to know’ with an individual’s need for sensitivity and privacy. There are those who felt that line was crossed. Vaughan Simpson had his limits tested as journalists flocked to Lalomanu, eager for stories, for pictures of the body recovery. “Some of the media were a litte frustrating. Every time we found a body, we would radio them in to Tony. The media would come charging into the bush and they’re trying to take photos or they’re trying to film the dead people and I would tell them to f… off! I would chase them out. The dead, they’re people, like your brother or your sister, they could be your kids and these pricks want to come in and film it. People aren’t supposed to do that. Some of the film crews were shocking, they were relentless. I chased them all out one day cursing at them and they reluctantly left. They probably went to the next village. I know they have to report on the world news, I suppose, but when you’re out there, working with the dead – it’s not nice. The media have got a job to do I guess – they’ve got to make money somehow, don’t they? I found it disrespectful, but I suppose it records history.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

The wave took her.

Ian and his daughter.
Sesa To'omalatai had been at the big house with her son Ian when the wave came. He was making breakfast for his parents and did not see the wave until it was too late. “I could see people panicking and running but I didn’t know why. I saw people pointing out to the sea, they were saying that a wave is coming. But I wasn’t paying attention and then it was like the wave was boiling over and I got such a fright. It wasn’t even thirty seconds and the wave hit us where we were standing at the back of the house by the kitchen. My wife was carrying our daughter and I caught hold of my mother. The wave hit and destroyed everything. We all went together out to the sea, I grabbed a tree branch and hung on to it with my mother while my wife and daughter were taken far away. We were floating in the sea and I was trying to pull us in because I could see we were drifting further and further out, so I tried to pull us more towards the land. Another wave came and that’s when my mother slipped from my grip, the wave took her. I ended up stuck on the seawall but my mother had gone. My wife and daughter made it to the roadside near the church. People from the village came to help. We looked for my mother and we found her at the back of our house. I wasn’t badly injured, but my mother was dead.”

Sesa was the only person killed at Vailoa village. She was seventy years old and the mother of ten children. Ian’s little girl is named after her grandmother. He holds her gently with huge hands and cries in the afternoon sun as carpenters hammer and saw, rebuilding the petrol station

I felt like an intruder.

Gradually throughout those few days after 29/09, others came to volunteer. To walk the line. To dig, forage and hack their way through Lalomanu. Matthew Leal came as a Red Cross volunteer. “We were assigned to go to Lalomanu and help with ‘clean up efforts’. We later found this was a euphemism for picking through rubble searching for the deceased.” He quickly realized this was not work for the faint of heart –or of body. “Searching for the dead is difficult in many different ways. Most rubble is heavy and haphazard and jagged. Sifting through, lifting and dropping and finding footholds is strenuous and Samoan humidity doesn’t help. The scene is surreal. Dead fish, left behind by the ocean litter the affected area. And then there’s the emotional leap required to look for dead bodies.”

Matthew had been one of a relay team that had run through Aleipata only a few weeks earlier on a 103 km race from Siumu to Apia. The difference between then and now, was mind-numbing. And digging through the personal leftovers of people’s lives, felt intrusive. Almost criminal.

“More than anything, I felt like an intruder. I’d driven by the area we searched many times before the earthquake, but never did I stop to search a family’s possessions or prod through their kitchen. And yet there I was today, finding family photos and Quiksilver baseball caps,condoms and notebooks and novels and gin. Two days ago, it would have been completely unacceptable for me to trudge into these people’s lives. It’s as though with the loss brought on by the tsunami comes the loss of one’s dignity. I felt like I was snooping.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two sets of people.Like night and day.

Ray and Etta Wyberski, Owners of 'Treasure Island' Jewellery store, American Samoa.

“We didn’t even think about the house and the damage or anything. We just thought about our son – everybody here was safe but we had one more that we needed to find…” Ray and Eta went into town. The Plaza building was standing but the lower levels had been blasted through by the wave. It was difficult to make sense of the wreckage though, because of the hordes of people who were scrambling through the ruined stores. Looters. Grabbing anything and everything they could get their hands on. Mainly passersby from other areas unaffected by the waves. Spectators who did not have to worry about searching for missing family members. “It’s amazing how you have two sets of people. One care about life and the other have no thought about anybody else, all they were thinking about was what they could steal. That was it, it was like night and day, two sets of people.”

One couple had come to check their offices at the Plaza and watched the thievery with horror. “One of the hardest parts of the day was the looting. Watching people at their worst was not something I will soon forget. People were looting stores, vehicles, offices, really anything they could get their hands on. Cars that were overturned were soon missing their tires as thieves came by. Some people were literally scavenging before a woman’s body was even removed from a car…”

Into this madness, came Eta and Ray looking for their son. Recognizing them, several people came up to them, “Do you know they’re looting your store? They’re stealing all your stuff.” Eta just waved them away, shoving through the crowd, screaming for her son, Anthony! Has anybody seen my son?!

...Anthony had made it safely out of reach of the water. But when the first wave had barely pulled back, he was one of the rare few who ventured outside to try and help those crying out for aid. Beside the Plaza there is a deep ditch where a murky stream runs. Many vehicles were lodged there. Including a bus. Anthony clambered into that ditch to help bring people out. The bus driver was pinned against the seat and could not be freed. The driver told him to go, go. The next wave was coming. “He didn’t want to leave him. But that wave came again and he was still in the water trying to pull the man out, the water came higher and the man told him to go, get out of here, go. So he got out of the bus and when the wave left, he went back there and the driver was dead.”

When Ray and Eta finally see their son, he is at sweaty, muddy work, dragging a body out of a car in the stream. “He was climbing out of the stream after getting some people out and as he was climbing out, he looked at us and he started crying. I hugged him, I was crying too, I told him, you’re okay, you’re alive, you’re okay.”

Anthony’s first words to his dad were asking for forgiveness. “Dad, I’m sorry about my truck, it’s all messed up…and the store, I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything about the store, I couldn’t stop those people from taking stuff.”

Ray and Eta held their son close, filthy and wet from the foul waters of the Pago harbor. They looked at the remains of their beautiful jewelry store, at people darting ecstatically down the main road with pockets crammed full of Wyberski gold and silver. Ray shook his head, “To hell with it son, we can always rebuild, we can get another car, another store. You’re alive and that’s all that matters. Let’s go home, never mind, just leave it alone.”