Friday, January 28, 2011

Congratulations Matt Anderson

A looooong time ago ( it seems) Mr Joe Keil approached the Australian High Commissioner, His Excellency Matt Anderson, about the Samoa Tsunami book project. Joe thought maybe, just maybe, Australia would be able to 'give us a small donation to assist with the printing, possibly a couple of thousand if they could spare it...' And so i met Mr Matt Anderson for the first time. I gave him a copy of the first ROUGH draft of the book ( filled with shocking errors and rambly sentences that defied all structure) Mr Anderson read it. He took it home and gave it to his wife Lou - and she read it. And they were able to see past the errors and the drivel. They believed in the project. They supported it. And a few weeks later, AUSAID very generously agreed to pay for the printing cost of 5,000 copies. I was fortunate enough to work together with Matt and Lou as the book went to editing and then to print and then to launch - and have been so impressed with their comittment to working on projects that really serve needs in the Samoan community. From Surf Lifesaving on our beaches to new drinking water fountains in our rural schools and sooooo much more - they have brought an unparalled enthusiasm, sincerity and far-reaching vision to their diplomatic mission. I was thrilled to read that Matt's work was recognized with an Australian Public Service Medal. Congratulations Matt and Lou - you will both be greatly missed in Samoa.

Australia’s High Commissioner, Matthew John Anderson has been honoured by that country’s Governor General for his work in Samoa.Yesterday, His Excellency Anderson was awarded a Public Service Medal in the Australia Day Honours list. The medal’s citation reads: “For outstanding public service in leading the Australian Government's consular and humanitarian response to the September 2009 tsunami in Samoa.”

The Honours list provides national and formal recognition for many Australians who have made a significant difference to their communities. Mr Anderson, who is leaving Samoa at the end of the month, was not immediately available for a comment yesterday. But he is immensely proud of Australia’s effort to help Samoa after the devastating tsunami of 2009 during which 143 people were killed.

In the Canberra Times yesterday, Mr Anderson said he was deeply humbled. He praised his staff at the Australian High Commission in Samoa and all Australians who helped.
Mr Anderson said his time in Samoa has “been the most professional and personally rewarding experience of my time in government.

“The four years here have been extraordinary due in large part to the generosity of the Samoan people and the expanding bilateral relationship. I wouldn't have wished to be anywhere else in the world for the past four years,” he told Radio Australia.
He remembers the tsunami as if it was yesterday.

“Well I'm a father of three young kids, so at that stage my youngest was two and as you can imagine at quarter to seven in the morning we were up, well and truly up, and I was actually getting him changed in the bedroom when the tremors started,” he said.“So we felt the tremors and my son told me that he thought that someone was in his cupboard. So once his cupboard doors were shaken off their hinges and we scooped up the other kids and stood out on the road for a little while just listening to things crash inside the house.

“And then when it stopped we came inside and I rang my staff in the other compound to do a head count and make sure everyone was ok, and then we swung into action.
“My emergency team met at post at 7:30 in the morning, and the first Australians were delivered to the hospital by 8 o'clock because the tsunami struck at about ten past seven.

“We were in the hospitals, I had my staff in hospitals by 8 o'clock. Apia was off limits because of the concerns for another tsunami or a follow-up, so we couldn't actually get down to the High Commission on Beach Road.And once they lifted the cordon, I came into work, opened up the building and by 11 o'clock we had negotiated the formal request for assistance from the Samoan government by midday.

“And we wacked that off to Canberra so they had that before they first met for their first disaster meeting in Canberra. And then we just proceeded to support those Australians that we knew or in hospitals or that were in harms way, and certainly by that stage we already knew that Marie had passed away, so we had our first fatality, had 10 or 12 Australians in hospitals at that stage.

“But on our lists we estimate that on any given day there's about 300 Australians that are holidaying in Samoa and so we had to find them. And that was the real challenge, just trying to find out how many of those were on the south coast when we had lost all communication with the south coast, and how many of them might have been to the hospitals, how many of them might have been completely unharmed and just get the post very, very busy to them, support the wonderful Australians who jumped on planes, the doctors, the surgeons, the anaesthetists, the nurses, the paramedics, the police who then came in and within 24 hours that were here providing lifesaving support.

“So there was the immediate consular aspect of just look trying to establish that my own staff were well and their whereabouts, then the consular aspect, then functioning as a mission, because my job there's nothing terribly sophisticated about what I had to do in those days, it was just trying to keep the mission running, keep my staff safe and motivated and provide direction to those who deployed to assist.

“And the one thing I will tell your listeners Geraldine is that the Australians who came out here that day and the days and the weeks that followed were the best. There's no shinier example of what's good about Australia than watching a Hercules arrive and the people that get off and just roll up their sleeves and say let's go. And I've never been more proud to be an Australian than I was in those days and weeks.” (Read the full interview in the Sunday Reading on Sunday).

Mr Anderson has been Australia's High Commissioner to Samoa since January 2007. His four-year term comes to a close at the end of the month when he returns to Canberra.

Before his Samoan appointment, he was Spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He had served overseas as Counsellor in Port Moresby from 2003 to 2005; Chief Negotiator, Peace Monitoring Group, Bougainville in 2001 and 2002; and Third/Second Secretary in Cape Town from 1997 to 2000.In Canberra, Mr Anderson worked in a range of bilateral and multilateral areas.He joined the Department in 1995 after serving as a commissioned officer in the Australian Defence Force.

Mr Anderson holds a Masters Degree from Monash University, an Arts Degree from Deakin University and is a Graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

Married to Lou, they have three beautiful children, Meg, Kate and Harry.They were farewelled during a gathering at Sails Restaurant last night.
From the Samoa Observer, 27 January , 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

'Pacific Tsunami - Galu Afi' Available on TradeMe

We're on TradeMe, NZ. You can purchase 'Pacific Tsunami- Galu Afi' online at the following link.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What are they saying about 'Pacific Tsunami - Galu Afi'?

"a small but important part of the healing process this beautifully crafted book is an interconnected series of tales from the survivors, rescuers, medical teams and aid workers, recording a significant moment in Pacific history. Woven graciously and empathetically by Lani, the book tells stories of villagers and tourists alike." Chris Cocker, Editor, Pacific Connection, Issue 22, Pacific Cooperation Foundation

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'The reef was rising up out of the ocean.'

Months after 29/09, schoolbooks still lie scattered along the Poloa shore.
At the very tip of Tutuila is the village of Poloa. It is a narrow strip of coast at the foot of a steep cliff. There is only room for one car coming or going down into the village. The most distinctive feature about Poloa is the noise. It is difficult to hear yourself think here. The surf crashes angrily, repeatedly on the jagged line of rocks a few feet from the shore. The roaring never stops. It is not an ocean for children to play in.

Poloa is a small village. A cluster of solid homes, a church, a school. Thanks to American dollars though, it is a far from meagre place. The school is new. A stunning steel beamed building with criss cross rafters. It had a reading room, a cluster of classrooms, a bathroom block. Curved steel chairs and desks. Thirty-three year old Simao Masoa worked there as a teacher’s aide. She had been living in Hawaii but decided to return home two years ago to be with her parents, her grandmother, two sisters and their children.

Simao was asleep when the earth shook. “I thought somebody was playing a joke on me shaking my bed. It didn’t even dawn on me that it was an earthquake. But then it kept getting harder so I jumped out of bed.”

Simao’s family ran outside. Her grandmother was distressed as the earth continued to rock. “She was panicking, she was thinking that because the earthquake was going on so long that maybe the earth was going to crack open. I was telling my dad to watch the ocean for any changes, but my grandma was saying, no, don’t look at the sea, look down on the ground!”

As the earth seemed to still finally, lines of children from the elementary school started streaming past the front of their house. The teachers were evacuating them to where the road curved up the mountain. Simao’s father called out to them.

“Hey, where are you kids going?”
“We’re going home. No more school because of the earthquake.”
For reasons he himself cannot explain, Simao’s father urged the children to move faster.
“Don’t walk – you should run. Go on, run up the road fast!”

Encouraged, the children let loose with whoops of glee and started running and shouting as they danced along the sand scattered street. The teachers who were bringing up the rear, called out to contain them and gave Simao’s dad disapproving looks as they chased after their young charges.
“I don’t know what made my Dad tell them to run, but it gave them pretty good time for them to get out of there because we didn’t know it but we were counting seconds at that time…”
Simao and her family had been standing outside for about ten minutes when it happened. Something that never happened in Poloa. Silence. Total and complete silence. The ocean that never stilled – stopped roaring. It was an eerie, unearthly quiet.

“Everything stopped. Everything. There were no waves. No noise. Everything went quiet.”
The ocean dropped. And because of their stones throw nearness to the reef, Simao clearly saw the coral rock shelf as it was revealed. “The water didn’t suck back. It just dropped down. It looked like the reef was rising up out of the ocean.” Simao yelled for her dad. He was quick to respond. “He turned around and said oh my God, get inside the truck right now. Our truck was parked in the garage. I ran and got the car keys and shouted to my grandma, let’s go!”

As they were climbing into the big truck, Simao remembered their neighbour. “Next door to us lives a paralysed man, he had a stroke some years ago and can’t walk. I saw his son outside the house and I called for him to get his dad, get your dad, get him out of the house now!”

The father is a large man. His son dragged him outside in a blanket, Simao and her dad helped to lift him into the vehicle’s back passenger seat beside grandma. Simao was driving with her father beside her. Her mother sat in the back of the truck with Simao’s sister. They reversed frantically and began speeding along the road that ran parallel with the fast returning sea. As they drove, Simao’s mother was screaming out to every house – Galu lolo! Tsunami! Run, run! They stopped beside the Reverend’s house when they saw his car still in the driveway. Reverend, get out, get out, the wave is coming! They stopped at another house that had not evacuated but the woman refused to leave. “My mom kept telling her to get in the car, to come with us because the wave was coming, but she said no, you guys go ahead, there’s nothing happening, don’t worry, I’ll be fine. So finally my dad told me to step on the gas.”

They met two other cars going in the wrong direction and Simao honked her horn, yelling for them to back up and head for safety. They could see the ocean as it began piling up and over the seawall. “The ocean was climbing up as it built – it wasn’t like a wave, it was a rush of water coming in all at one time, it got to the seawall and it just climbed up and rushed over it.” At the end of the road, Simao accelerated to turn up on the mountain and as the car jerked, Simao’s mother fell out onto the road.

“I heard my sister bang on the roof of the truck, yelling to me mom fell out! I looked in the back and the wave was coming so fast. I stopped the truck, got out and ran to get my mom. She stood up and she kept telling us to keep going, don’t wait for her. But I got her back into the truck and accelerated again up the hill. The road was full of the school kids that had passed in front of our house, they weren’t even halfway up. I had to honk at them to run faster, I don’t think they knew how quick the water was coming after us.”

At the top of the hill, Simao pulled over and the family looked back at the ocean. They couldn’t see around the corner into the village but the power poles beside them were being pulled towards the direction of the ocean as further down and out of sight, something was tugging on the wires. Something that was consuming their homes. Standing there, Simao remembers a strange sight. That of the wave rebounding and heading back out – towards Upolu in the far off distance. “I saw three ripples in the ocean going back towards Aleipata. Three ripples that built from here in Poloa. And the ripples were full of debris, all this rubbish that was being taken with it. And I realized that was our village. All that stuff going out in the ocean ripples, was our houses and our stuff and our cars and everything.”

It didn’t take long to wipe out Poloa. It is after all, deceptively easy for nature to erase man when she feels like it. Simao came down the mountain road with her father before even half an hour had elapsed. “There was nothing left, not even a wall…” At the end of the village only the elementary school building was standing. Without sides or innards, an empty hulking shell. Months afterwards, one can still find the tattered remnants of primary school readers, scattered on the shore rocks.

One woman was killed by the tsunami in Poloa Village. Perise Sula, who did not want to leave her house when Simao and her family called her to join them. Thanks to past earthquake drills and swift response to the calls to evacuate, there were not more deaths. But there will be no more Poloa village down here where the crashing surf never sleeps. It has been designated a V-zone, unsafe for rebuilding, the tsunami risk too high. Children in yellow and blue pinafores will no longer skip to school along a sun drenched shore.

How did the Masoa family know to react as quickly as they did that morning? “We lived our whole life growing up in Hawaii where there were a lot of trainings done about tsunami. Also, we would have regular evacuation drills at the elementary school, so I guess that’s why we knew what to look for and what we had to do.”

All that's left of the school where Simao worked with the children of Poloa..

Monday, January 3, 2011

A reviewer in Hawaii: Mike Foley

A Review published in Kaleo:Koolauloa News, in Hawaii.
Book review: Pacific Tsunami “Galu Afi” By Mike Foley.
The story of the greatest natural disaster Samoa has ever known, September 2009, 397 pages, by Lani Wendt Young; edited by Hans Joachim Keil
* * * * * * * *
At 6:48 a.m. on September 29, 2009, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake in the ocean floor about 120 miles southeast of Samoa started the nearby tropical islands to shake, walls to crack and buildings to collapse.

"It felt far more consuming than its one-and-a-half minutes," one survivor said.

But the earthquake was just the predecessor to a much more destructive galu lolo or tsunami that within about five minutes would strike the three northern-most islands in Tonga, and 10–15 minutes later parts of the islands of Samoa and neighboring American Samoa with deadly force, claiming almost 200 lives.

One grandmother, remembering stories she heard as a little girl about her father's own boyhood tales of earthquakes and galu lolo, told her daughter and grandchildren to immediately run inland when she felt the shaking. They were saved. Others made similar dashes, but some were caught unprepared in the first surge of the resulting tsunami.

The birds knew, one survivor claimed: "[They] started screeching, it was like a ringing in my ears… I saw them all take off from the trees…but we didn't have any idea"; and a surfer out early that morning later said, "The sea was bubbling as if a 10-foot-plus wave had just detonated on the reef…millions of gallons of water were creating violent waterfalls." He wisely paddled farther out to sea and survived.

"We saw the wave coming like fire[or galu afi in Samoan], so we ran," someone said; but a man in Matautu village added,"It doesn't matter if you're a good runner, you'd get caught. The wave was just too fast."

Some said the wave, starting with the second of four surges, was black; but "the sound of the wave is what most people remember most vividly," Young wrote — "a rushing wind, or like a train, smashing houses like matchsticks."

Some drowned quickly while others caught in the surge swam or struggled to safety, but the murky water was filled with "roofing iron that can cut you in pieces, coral boulders torn from the reef, timber beams that will break all your ribs…and you're in the middle of it."

Many of those caught in the water who survived suffered "deep, dirty lacerations…cuts and bruises…[and] nasty lung infections."

Depending on the topography, the waves came across the beach about 10 feet high in relatively level places, but rose to 26 feet in the "tsunami trap" of American Samoa's Pago Pago harbor and even higher in a few other places. Many climbed trees to escape, including two Mormon missionaries who also helped save a number of young children in their precarious perch. Others scrambled up steep hills to escape.

Some remembered the "ferocity of the wave rather than its height," Young wrote. In parts of Malaela, a village on the southeastern shore of Upolu island facing the earthquake's epicenter, "there were no houses left. Only cement foundations with steel inserts gaping through where block walls had been ripped away, as if by a giant hand wiping a slate clean." Several beachside resorts were particularly devastated, with vacationing tourists counted among the injured and dead.

Lani Wendt Young — under commission from Samoan businessman and Associate Minister for Trade and Commerce Hans Joachim Keil, who has family in Laie — compiled these and many more stories into her compelling Pacific Tsunami "Galu Afi", which she patterned after David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood account of that 1889 disaster to "give the reader a sense of ‘really being there.'"

Keil and Young published the book, her first, on the one-year anniversary of the natural disaster "to ensure that a record is kept of people's tsunami experiences for the benefit of both present and future generations." The Australian Government Aid Program provided printing funds.

Young, who is part-Samoan and Maori, was born and raised in Samoa but graduated from high school in Washington D.C. when her father — Dr. Felix Wendt, currently Director of LDS Humanitarian Aid and Welfare Services for Samoa and Tonga — was there on a diplomatic posting. She attended Georgetown University and graduated with a degree in English literature and Women's Studies and a Diploma in Education from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

A month after starting the book, she wrote: "I have seen children who were saved by parents who held them above the water while they were submerged. I have touched trees that people climbed up to evade the waters… I have listened to mothers weep because they could not save their little ones. I have felt the anger of fathers who could not fight against the tsunami."

In short, she captured much of the human drama of that terrible day without intruding on the sensitive feelings of the surviving victims and their family members.

For example, she told the story of Jared and Netta Schwalger, who also have family in Laie. Then each 29 years old, they had quit their jobs in Apia so they could raise their two-year-old son and one-year-old daughter in a more traditional family-oriented lifestyle with his parents in Malaela, which caught the full-on brunt of the tsunami. Soon after the earthquake, when they realized what the earthquake would bring, they quickly loaded the kids in the family pickup — but it was already too late:

As Netta turned back to the house to warn her mother-in-law, "the last thing I saw was the wave hit the house and everything was broken in pieces." The unyielding surge carried the truck into a swamp about 100 yards inland, coming to a half-submerged rest and pinning Netta's leg. Jared was also hurt but could walk, his father and mother were dead, and "of the children there was no sign."

As Jared first tried to free her, Netta passed out from the pain. "But when I was out, I heard voices. They were laughing and they were playing. It was my children and I wanted to be with them. But then a voice whispered in my ear to wake up, that it wasn't my time yet. But I didn't want to."

Finally, with the help of others, she was among the first survivors to reach the National Hospital in Apia, where a relief team of doctors from Australia and New Zealand eventually saved her leg from amputation. Asking relatives to watch her, Jared quickly returned to Malaela where he spent the next three days looking for the body of his son. The little boy and girl were buried about a week after the tsunami, a day before their grandparents' funeral. Jared then slept on the hospital floor for the next four weeks while his wife began recovering.

In another seaside village Leua Viiga reported the tsunami wave washed her and her youngest child into their house, which then collapsed on top of them. She escaped when the second surge suddenly carried most of the debris away, but her little boy was found dead later that day. Meanwhile, an older son had "grabbed hold of their china cabinet as it swirled past him in the black waters and clambered on top. It would save his life…[though] it should have been destroyed like everything else." In fact, the dishes inside were also intact.

Young wrote that Leua, who spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from a head wound, and her husband are "thankful for tender mercies…[and] have eyes to see miracles": Unlike many others, her child looked somewhat peaceful in death; the china cabinet is where she and her husband stored their Latter-day Saint temple clothing, and a family freezer that floated away was later recovered and worked when it was plugged in again.

And one of Young's favorite stories came from Robert Toelupe of Leone, American Samoa. Toelupe, a retired Navy submariner who had been trained in escaping from dark, confusing water, "kept going back into the tsunami to save people" while looking for his own missing family members.

For example, he first swam and carried one woman to safety, then rescued a boy and his wheelchair-bound father, resuscitated another woman with CPR, and the next day dove repeatedly into a mangrove swamp flooded with foul water to recover the body of a missing girl.

Young wrote that for six weeks after the tsunami, "This little girl kept popping into [Toelupe's] head," disturbing his sleep. Later, the girl's mother gave him "a bundle of papers she had found in a box while cleaning up her tsunami-wracked house…papers that contained vital genealogical information about Toelupe's family tree and their ancestral rights to a block of land he had been fighting for in court for over 10 years." Toelupe and the woman hadn't realized before that they were related, and he's since made good progress on his land case. He's also never seen the little girl again in his dreams.

Young described Toelupe and others as "another kind of hero…[who] in the face of insurmountable obstacles, they still tried desperately to overcome."

But the Navy retiree, she continued, disputes people who called him brave for going back into the tsunami. "I didn't go in because I was brave. I went in because I was afraid. So afraid. Louder than the sound of the waves was the thumping of my heart beating in my chest, and ringing in my ears — that's how scared I was. I don't know how to explain the fear I felt, knowing that my daughter and my grandchild were in danger." They were later found safe.

"I've seen people drowning and just remembering what goes on with a person when they're drowning, that scared me. I felt so scared for my daughter and I felt so scared for everyone in the village," Toelupe continued. "The fear gets to a point where you're not worried about safety. I wasn't prepared to see my children drown, the whole time I was praying I wouldn't see that happen to my daughter."

"Grief and loss are the most cutting of tsunami trauma," Young wrote. For example, Netta Schwalger told her, "We have moved on slowly. It was hard when I realized I had lost my kids. It was hard listening to children's voices, hard seeing babies, mothers holding their babies and it was really hard to get used to that. I see other people with their kids and it's hard, but I have to accept it."

Young also tells of those who worked to exhaustion to help the victims of that day, and the relief efforts of many overseas Samoans and others. "Ask survivors of the Samoa tsunami about the help they received after their ordeal and they will tell you — there has been so much love that they have been overwhelmed," she wrote.

Young stressed that in writing the book she tried to be "religion neutral," but people "continue to comment on the faith and resilience" of all the Samoans and tourists affected by this disaster. For example, a Catholic Church leader in American Samoa "described the book as being a ‘faith filled account' and I agree."

"For [her fellow Latter-day Saint] Church members and non-LDS alike, a common thread with all the survivors was gratitude to God: For sparing their lives, for saving one child (even though two others were killed), for sending them so much help and assistance via generous donors both local and foreign."

Young added that compiling the book also caused her to do a lot of personal soul searching: "Honestly, I would come home from a day of interviewing people and question myself. Could I have been so faithful? So humble? So grateful of my meager blessings if that had been ME who had lost everything?"

* * * * * * *

Pacific Tsunami, which is filled with similar accounts, can be ordered online at for $39.99 (plus shipping) or in the mainland U.S. at www.keilcreations for $35 (includes shipping); in Laie at Cackle Fresh Egg Store, $30, or call Magi Keil at 808-293-5568; and in New Zealand and Australia at It is also available at bookstores and other locations in Samoa and American Samoa.

— By Mike Foley
(photos courtesy of Barry Markowitz and Lani Young)

Read it firsthand and comment at the following address: