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 One year on: Protecting families from future disasters


Falefata Elaulau looks across the foundations of his new home to the distant sea below. A year ago, his family of 13 lived in three houses next to the ocean, but the tsunami that devastated parts of Samoa’s coastline on 29 September 2009 not only claimed 143 lives and ravaged the landscape, it changed the way of life for hundreds of families.

One year on, entire communities, including Falefata’s village of Saleapaga where 32 people died, have relocated inland and uphill to avoid future tsunamis. Other natural disasters are also top of mind. “I aim to make this house strong to protect my family from disasters like cyclones,” the 66-year-old grandfather of four says.

With his family now living in two traditional Samoan homes, built without walls to combat the hot climate, Falefata feels they need more protection from the storms that are common from November to April each year. “It will be a European-style house,” he says.

Heightened awareness
Samoa Red Cross Secretary General Tautala Mauala says this kind of heightened awareness of natural disasters is evident across the country. “While disaster planning was previously simply theoretical, it‘s now very meaningful to Samoan communities,” she says.

“Some communities that remain near the ocean are constructing escape routes up steep cliffs to prevent being trapped by another tsunami. Others are including disaster risk reduction in community plans,” she says.

Successful relocation
Falefata says that despite the efforts required over the past year, the consensus at a recent village meeting was that the move to Saleapaga’s new location has been a success.

His daughter Ato Tausaga, 33, agrees. “My family didn’t want to live near the sea again. We wanted to build a new life up here, where we don’t have to worry about another tsunami,” she says.

“The most difficult thing about moving was getting enough clean water – it was harder for us at the beginning, but now it’s much better with help from the government and Red Cross,” Ato says.

Clean water to reduce vulnerability
Falefata’s family is one of 349 receiving a 5,000-litre Red Cross rainwater harvesting tank to collect safe drinking water. The family can also access clean water from another tank in front of their land, part of a new interim gravity-fed water system that Red Cross supported with 17 kilometres of pipe.

“The pipes help us a lot,” Falefata says. “Now we get water easily every day, without having to wait for it to rain.”

IFRC Tsunami Recovery Coordinator Erin Cornish says that communities with more than one safe water source are less vulnerable should a disaster strike. “Water has been a major focus of the Red Cross response, including immediately distributing drinking water to prevent diseases and delivering more than 1.8 million litres of water to villages over four months,” she says.

“Our water program is part of a broader strategy to build communities’ capacity to cope with disasters,” Ms Cornish says. “Other programs, such as our support for livelihoods, work towards the same goal.”

Strengthening livelihoods
Soo Poni has always lived by the ocean in Lalomanu, another of the hardest-hit villages. Hers is one of 169 families in 19 villages that received a Red Cross livelihoods cash grant, which she has used to rebuild her grocery business that was destroyed by the tsunami.

The 46-year-old recalls how a wave struck the shop and then smashed her through its back door before pushing her house on top of her. A second wave freed her, but took everything she owned.

The loss of so many things – including money kept in her shop – meant Soo and her husband had to work at a tourist resort to make ends meet. “It’s very hard to find money for bus fares and school fees for our two children,” she says. “With our own business again, I can work towards our future plans.”

Remembering the past, looking to the future
In Saleapaga, Falefata’s building work includes helping to construct a monument honouring the people from his village who died in the tsunami, which will be unveiled on the anniversary at a special ceremony. His other focus is protecting his family. “The next step is finishing the house so that the children can move in,” he says.

In Lalomanu, Soo’s plans are also straightforward. “I want to extend my business and buy more stock. I hope to make enough money to build beach bungalows so tourists can swim and have barbecues here,” Soo says. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without Red Cross’ help.”

Falefata Elaulau is building a cyclone-resistant house to protect his family, high above the former site of his village. Photo: Samoa Red Cross/Abril Esquivel

Falefata’s family of 13 is able to access clean water more easily, thanks to help from the government and Red Cross. Photo: Samoa Red Cross/Abril Esquivel

Ato Tausaga, with son Jared and daughter Heta, wanted to build a new life away from the coast to avoid future tsunamis. Photo: Samoa Red Cross/Abril Esquivel

Soo’s is one of 169 families in 19 villages that received a Red Cross livelihoods cash grant. Photo: Samoa Red Cross/Karina Coates

 Samoa: Little Girls Lost


Eight months on

Karina Coates, Communications Delegate, Samoa

3 June 2010

 With rebuilding underway and tropical regrowth masking a landscape scarred by last September’s tsunami, internal wounds are still raw in Samoa.


“Every moment of every day, I see their faces,” Afioga Falanaipupu says. “When I sleep at night I dream that my granddaughters are still standing right in front of me. That is what is happening to me right now.”

While her village, Lepa, was extensively damaged by the tsunami that engulfed parts of Samoa’s coastline on 29 September last year, Afioga’s home was spared. But her granddaughters, ten-year-old Losivale and two-year-old Lutia, lost their lives when the car they were travelling in with their parents, uncle and baby sister was swept away by the destructive wave.

Although an earthquake had just shaken Samoa, it did not occur to the family that there could be further danger. Anxious to attend an early morning hospital appointment to treat a lump on Lutia’s leg, the family set off in the car. Minutes later a wave, which the children’s uncle described to Afioga as being as high as the coconut palms, was on top of them. He has told her that he turned to the others and said, “We’re going to die. Look at that wave.” In the few moments before the wave swallowed the car, the family spoke of how no one would be left to help Afioga, as the 68-year-old’s other children live overseas. Then the tsunami struck.

Terrible loss

As the wave carried the car inland, it forced open one of the back doors. Losivale and Lutia fell out and disappeared into the water. The girls’ father, Faapoi, sitting in the passenger seat, managed to keep hold of eight-month-old Lima, who was on his lap. As he was secured by his seatbelt, he was unable to leap out to rescue his beloved daughters.

“He can’t get over it,” says Afioga. “He can’t sleep at night, so he sits on the girls’ tomb. Then he will lie down on it, and I will ask, ‘Are you going to sleep there?’,” she says. “That’s the way he has been acting since he lost his two little girls.”

Bright lives extinguished

Afioga’s memories of her clever, funny granddaughters are those she shared at their funeral. Losivale excelled in all her classes, and loved being centre stage in school dance performances. “She was so self-confident. She was never shy or self-conscious,” Afioga says of the schoolgirl who embraced every experience.

Lutia would chat with her grandmother each morning. “After she had put on her uniform she’d come to see me,” Afioga remembers. “She’d say, ‘Nanna I’m going to school now.’ I’d give her a little money, and she would come all the way back from the shop to show me what she had bought,” she says. “And every day she would share her drink with her preschool classmates. That’s why it’s impossible to forget those little children.”

Comprehensive support

Samoa Red Cross Society’s Secretary General, Namulauulu Tautala Mauala, says that for people recovering from a major event like the tsunami, every dimension of life has been disrupted. “Everything has changed. It takes a long time, and much energy, to re-establish routines and to come to terms with what has happened,” Namulauulu says.

“While Samoans are resilient people, and have established coping mechanisms that include relying on their family and church networks, this disaster was unexpected and has had enormous impacts,” she says.

Samoa Red Cross Society is committed to ensuring that psychosocial support – care, comfort and referral to specialist services – is integrated into all of the organisation’s work, including local and Pacific-wide disaster response and recovery programs. “We are coordinating with national and international organisations and adapting psychosocial messages and tools used in other contexts to the Samoan culture,” Namulauulu says.

Future resilience

Over the coming months, Samoa Red Cross Society will work closely with all Samoan communities to identify risks, reduce hazards and be better prepared for disasters.

“People have learned a great deal through living through the experience of the tsunami. We have already seen that communities are more receptive to managing and reducing risk, as well as learning about practical tools and processes to help them in the future,” Namulauulu says. “While disaster planning was previously simply theoretical, it is now very meaningful to Samoan communities. They are more ready to take action to incorporate this understanding into their new lives.”

For Afioga and her family, this understanding comes at an enormous cost. “My children overseas want me to live with them. But I don’t want to leave the place where my granddaughters died,” Afioga says. “I wish that life could be bought with money. No matter how expensive it was, I would still try to buy life for my two little grandchildren.”

Namulauulu says it is important to remember that just six months on, many people are continuing to struggle. “Some may never take for granted their previous sense of security or confidence, but each will find their own new normality in a changed, though possibly more dangerous world,” she says. “What we do know for certain is that every journey takes time and needs our continued support and acknowledgment.”

In its auxiliary to government role, Samoa Red Cross Society is working alongside and in coordination with the Government of the Samoa to ensure people’s needs are met.

An International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) appeal raised 2.5 million Swiss francs (2.4 million US dollars; 1.63 million Euros) for tsunami relief and recovery work.

Australian Red Cross and New Zealand Red Cross sent disaster relief and recovery personnel and relief items, as well as supported the provision of latrines, community and household water tanks and a gravity-fed water system. The organisations are also continuing to provide support and training to strengthen Samoa Red Cross Society's capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters, as well as supporting it to help people to recover from the shock of this disaster and build resilience to cope with future disasters.


 Diarrhea Outbreak in Tsuanmi Affected Areas

25 January 2010

The Samoa Red Cross Health Team is responding to reports from health clinics in the tsunami affected areas of an increase in cases of diarrhea, particularly in children under the age of 5.   The primary cause for the increase is thought to be related to lack of access to running water supplies and the resulting impact on basic sanitation and hygiene.  Of highest concern is the increase in cases for young children who are particularly vulnerable to the complications of diarrhea, which include malnutrition, and in extreme cases, death.  The exact number of new cases over the last month is not available at this time.

The Health Team has been mobilized and is conducting preliminary assessments, and developing an educational intervention to be administered to individual families in the affected villages.  The intervention will be tailored to the results of the preliminary assessment but will most likely include information on, handwashing, water sanitation, and proper waste disposal.  Families will also receive information on the causes of diarrhea as well as at home treatments, and instructions for obtaining medical assistance.  The educational intervention is scheduled to commence later this week.

 Tsunami Affected Children Receive Immunizations

27 October 2009 

The Samoan Government, with the support of The UN Children's Fund and The World Health Organization, has started a six week measles immunization campaign.  This campaign will also include administering vitamin A along with the measles vaccines.

On Monday, 26th of October, the campaign started in the tsunami-affected areas, targeting children from ages 6 months to 4 years and 11 months.  Children of disaster affected areas are more likely to contract communicable diseases and experience more severe symptoms and complications as a result.  The disruption to daily life caused by the tsunami and the displacement of families to areas without proper sanitation infrastructure and hygiene supplies puts these children at high risk for communicable diseases including measles, diarrhea and respiratory infections.

Vitamin A supplementation is administered along with the measles vaccine because it has been proven to strengthen the immune system, helping to prevent measles and diarrhea among other diseases.  With the large number of illnesses and injuries already putting a strain on the local hospitals and clinics, prevention efforts like this one, are very important to reducing the burden on the health care system while at the same time improving and saving the lives of many children in the tsunami affected areas.

The immunization teams are working hard to reach all the children in the affected areas first.  With the large number of displaced families and their relocation into the interior of the island, the program staff are faced with significant obsticals to overcome.  Adapting to the situation the team is planning on utilizing four-wheel drive vehicles in order to reach some of the children located in the most remote inland areas.

Once the vaccination teams have covered all the villages in the tsunami-affected areas they will expand to cover the rest of Samoa.  The program aims to vaccinate over 32 thousand children nation wide. 

 Tsunami Relief Update

13 October 2009

Over the weekend Samoans celebrated their annual White Sunday holiday including a public holiday on Monday.  Though most people had the day off to spend with friends and family many relief workers and Red Cross Volunteers were out working to provide much needed assistance to those still residing in the Tsunami effected areas.  The majority of the work done by Red Cross volunteers on Monday was delivering much needed water to the families who have relocated inland.

Water remains one of the biggest concerns in the relief effort.  Thousands of Samoans have moved inland and preliminary reports show they are not planning on returning to the coast.  Water and sanitation infrastructure is not currently available in these areas.  The Red Cross, along with the Samoa Water Authority and other organizations, are working to outfit these areas with latrines and water tanks to provide these families with a regular source of water and adequate sanitation services in the short term.  Intermediate and long-term plans have not been released at this time. 

Shelter remains a top priority with many families living under tarpaulins and sleeping on mats or bedding on the ground.  Efforts are underway to assist with the building of faleo’os, or small, traditional, Samoan huts made with timber and floors raised off the ground to provide a short-term solution to improve living and shelter conditions.  Efforts are being made to obtain tool sets and other supplies need for the construction of these huts and other shelter and rebuilding projects.

The Red Cross, along with other government and non-government organizations, is also working hard in the areas of, psychosocial support, emergency health care, hygiene promotion, restoring family links, and livelihoods support.  For full details on the relief efforts and recovery plans, read the latest International Federation Red Cross Red Crescent Operations update.

 Little Voices That Care

8 October 2009

A new club, Little Voices That Care, delivered a contribution to the Samoa Red Cross headquarters today.  This club was founded on 9 September 2009 by Brianna Fruean, age 11, with the goal of finding ways primary school students can make a difference.  The club from Vaiala Beach School worked to raise money and material donations for the children affected by the tsunami.  Little Voices That Care delivered $2000 WST in cash and six boxes of supplies including clothes, sheets, canned food, lollies, biscuits, milk, sugar, noodles and toiletries.  The donation included the following letter:

Dear Red Cross,

Here is some money and a few items our group collected for the children who have been left homeless from the Tsunami.  We know it's not enough for all of them but this is all we could collect to help out.

We lost a loved member (Ms Moanalei Sarah Long) of our group to the tsunami and we can't do anything to save her bt we want to help the children that have survived.

Please make sure they have ice-cream for this White Sunday and wish them a VERY Happy White Sunday from us.

God Bless
With all our love
“Little Voices That Care”

Vaiala beach School

The children from Little Voices That Care, along with all the other donors and volunteers helping in the relief effort, are a testament to the character of the community here in Samoa.

 Remarks of the Prime Minister at the National Memorial Service

Remarks of the Prime Minister, Hon Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi at the National Memorial Service for the Tsunami Victims  Apia Park Stadium 3 p.m. Thursday 8 Oct, 2009

"All our people throughout the country either first hand or through media pictures have seen the terrible devastation wrought by the Tsunami that struck Samoa last week and the unprecedented death toll that resulted.  The depth of grief and desolation felt by everyone who lost loved ones and people dear to them are beyond words to describe and we can only grieve with them.  We are here today to remember as a nation the many people, both our own and visitors to our country, who were taken so tragically and so abruptly.  Although no longer amongst us they shall remain an indelible part of our collective memory and of the history of our nation.

    Samoa has suffered disasters in the past.  In each of those times when grief and despair threatened to overwhelm us, our faith as a Christian nation and the innate resilience of our culture of helping each other had sustained our nation through those crises.

    Even in this grim time of great sorrow and turbulence in the life of our nation, our faith in our Lord God shall always bring hope and steady our ship.

    At the end of every dark tunnel is light.  So many of our people have lost their lives and the destruction to villages and property have been extreme and total in many cases.  We therefore owe it to those who lost their lives that as a nation, we become more vigilant and take every measure possible to avoid the loss of lives and mitigate the destruction to property when natural disasters again strike in future.

    In this regard, the government shall continue to provide both advice and construct support infrastructure that would help our people and country achieve this important objective.  If our country takes to heart and act on the lessons learned from this devastating disaster, then in an important sense, the loss of so many of our people will not have been in vain.

    In the aftermath of the tsunami when a clearer picture emerged of the terrible extent of the devastation, Samoa’s closest friends in the international community immediately responded in ways available and logistically feasible for them.

    I would like to mention with deepest gratitude the emergency assistance that the Governments of Australia and New Zealand mobilised which deployed medical teams, military personnel, assets and supplies critical to the rescue and relief work that was undertaken.  The visits of New Zealand’s Prime Minister the Hon. John Key and his Foreign Minister to see for themselves conditions on the ground as well as the personal communication from the Prime Minister of Australia and Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Hon. Kevin Rudd were a great source of comfort to our government and people.

    Similarly, the messages of condolences and assistance provided and offered by other very close friends of Samoa including the governments of China, Japan, Germany, Korea, Tonga, Tokelau the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union as well as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations to name only some, have given us much confidence in facing the inevitable serious challenges ahead for Samoa that the earthquake and tsunami disaster have generated. 

    An immediate need in the recovery and rehabilitation period is assisting families and villages to bring normalcy back to their lives.  A priority task therefore that the government would address is to decide on appropriate assistance to help all those affected re-establish their homes, families and communities.

    I wish also to thank all the Churches, the Red Cross, non-governmental organisations, the private sector companies and individuals both in Samoa and overseas who have donated generously towards the victims of this calamity.
    Last but not least I acknowledge with gratitude each and everyone from overseas and our own people who have worked tirelessly and risk even their own health to help and support the rescue and relief effort that has been ongoing since the disaster struck.

    On behalf of His Highness the Head of State, the government and people of Samoa, I would like to express our sincere appreciation and gratitude to all the governments, the international organisations and every person who contributed and helped the victims of the disaster and our country at this time of crisis.

    I thank you."

For the Samoan version of this speech click here

 National Memorial Service for Tsunami Victims

excerpt from Samoa Government Press Release 06 October 2009

A Special Cabinet Sub-Committee is finalizing the program for National Memorial Service for those who lost their lives in the Tsunami.

This Service which will take place on Thursday 8th of October 2009, at 3pm at Apia Park Stadium. Following the Prayer Service which will be conducted by the National Council of Churches, a Procession will immediately proceed to Tafaigata Cemetery for the internment of the 10 deceased loved ones, whose families have concurred to have them buried at a special site, which will be designated specifically for 2009 Tsunami victims. A monument will be erected in the memory of all the victims and will be unveiled at a later date.

Government is declaring Thursday the 8th of October 2009 as a National Mourning Day for the entire country to remember the Tsunami victims, and a half day holiday from 12.00 noon is likewise being announced.


 7 October Tsunami Relief Update

A week after the tsunami hit Samoa the true extent of the impact and the recovery needs are becoming clearer. Forty villages have been affected by the tsunami, 20 of which have been nearly or totally destroyed. The large majority of people affected are on the south and east sides of the island of Upolu. Nationwide 142 people have died, 7 are still missing, 335 received treatment for injuries and 32 are still in hospital. It is currently estimated that 3,500 people are homeless and are either living with friends or family or in makeshift shelters further inland.

Samoa Red Cross Society, with the support of the International Federation, has been distributing hygiene kits, baby kits, tarpoulines, water, food, cooking supplies, first aid kits, clothes, sandals, bedding and other supplies to the families in the effected areas. The Red Cross is also working in the areas of relief, health, water and sanitation, psychosocial support, shelter and restoring family links.

The International Federation has launched an appeal requesting 2.9 million Swiss francs (7.3 million Samoan Tala) to fund the Red Cross recovery programs. Donations are still coming in from local and international donors. International donors are encouraged to contribute monetary donations through their National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society.

 Tsunami Relief Update

5 October 2009


As soon as the alarm was raised on 29 September, Samoa Red Cross Society volunteers went into action, evacuating people from low-lying areas. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, they provided first aid and distributed water, tarpaulins, blankets, food and other emergency relief items.

The Samoa Red Cross welcomed assistance from members of the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Society's Field Assessment and Coordination (FACT), which comprised 11 experts in fields including restoring family links, water and sanitation, shelter, psychosocial support and health.

Samoa Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to assess people's needs at the same time as delivering essential supplies such as water, water containers and tarpaulins.

The Samoa Red Cross has had an excellent response to the request for volunteers with dozens of people sorting, loading and unloading supplies. In affected areas, staff and volunteers are distributing supplies and helping in the clean up efforts.

The response to request for donations to the Samoa Red Cross has been strong. Donors include individuals, families, communities and companies. 

Local donors are encouraged to donate water containers, buckets, hygiene supplies, bedding, shelter supplies, cooking supplies, building tools and mosquito nets. International donors are encouraged to make cash donations which can be translated into goods that are needed now.

Official sources list 137 dead, 8 missing and 310 people treated at hospitals and clinics but mostly discharged. An estimated 26,000 people live along the affected coastline, with 15,000 particularly badly affected in 60 villages. The impact of the tsunami has been greatest in the south east region of Upolu including villages in Aleipata district and the villages of Poutasi and Lalomanu. 

The International Federation has launched a preliminary appeal to help support the Samoa Red Cross Society deal with the tsunami. Read the appeal here.

 International Red Cross Red Crescent DREF Operation Update

30 September 2009

On 29 September 2009, at the universal time of 17:48:07, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre reported an earthquake measuring a magnitude of 8.3 in the Pacific, off American Samoa; which generated a Pacific widetsunami warning. (At the local time of 0408hours the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre stated that a Tsunamiwarning was in effect for American Samoa, Samoa, Niue, Waliis-Futuna, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu,Kiribati, Kermadec Island, Fiji, Howland-Baker, Jarvis Island, New Zealand, French Polynesia, and PalmyraIsland).

The earthquake lasted over five minutes. The epicentre of the quake was located 190 km southwest of AmericanSamoa. Samoan reports say the wave that hit in Apia was 0.7 of a metre while the second, larger wave in PagoPago, in American Samoa, was measured at 1.7 metres.

Apia was evacuated by police and Red Cross volunteers and people sent to higher ground inland. Preliminary assessments indicate that low lying coastal areas of Apia have been affected with homes damaged and reportsof death and injuries. There are many different reports on the number of people killed or injured. Currently the Samoa ministry of human services have confirmed 55 people killed in Samoa. International media are indicatingthe death toll may reach 100.

United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) - trained staff have been deployed to conductpreliminary assessments, and current infomation indicates that up to 114 tourists are in an evacuation centrewhere they are being sheltered and assisted by the local government the village of Lalomanu, in the district ofAleitaca. The Samoan government is trying to assist with their transportation and housing. Unconfirmed reports are that there are 14 tourists missing and five dead. The tourists are said to be from New Zealand, United Kingdom, Germany and Uruguay. The main need in this area now is to evacuate the tourists and those injured. Another affected area is Poutasi, in the district of Salelili.


Read the full Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) Operation Update here

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