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Neighbours rally to rebuild Samoa

Lelata village, Samoa, three weeks after cyclone Evan. Photo: Paul Tomane

Tropical cyclone Evan struck the Samoan island group on 13 December, bringing death and destruction. Indooroopilly Uniting Church member Paul Tomane returned to his village in Samoa in early January to help family and friends, and he describes the weeks that followed.

The island of Upolu, where the capital Apia is located, bore the brunt of the 150km/ hour strong winds. Much of the damage was caused by the huge amount of rainfall that was dumped on the islands during the cyclone.

This caused many of the rivers to overfl ow and cause flooding, including the Vaisigano River, which runs into the sea near Apia wharf, which took as many as 200 houses and dwellings in its path.

There was still evidence of damage caused by the strong winds all the way from the airport into the capital, such as fallen-down houses, houses without roofs, fallen trees and such, but the recovery phase was well underway.

During that first weekend, it was confirmed that five people were dead and another 11 missing (nine lost at sea, two on land).

Almost 4000 people were displaced and all essential services were severed; in other words, the country was in a total mess.

A number of evacuation centres, usually in high school and church buildings, were set up in Upolu to accommodate displaced people, and the emergency and relief work started.

The New Zealand and Australian governments responded quickly by sending in emergency teams and supplies of food and shelter the following week.

An ADF C-17 aircraft delivered emergency relief supplies, bringing hygiene kits comprised of soap, towels, torches, candles, batteries and other personal items; protective cleaning gear and generators; insecticide nets, tarpaulins and shelter kits: altogether more than 30 tons of cargo.

Other international relief organisations such as Red Cross and Oxfam and church agencies responded by sending supplies or funds to the Government of Samoa.

When I arrived, the clean-up efforts were well underway with the removal of mud, debris and fallen trees.

Displaced people were slowly being resettled back to their places using temporary shelters, and the authorities were working their way to restoring water and electricity throughout the country.

The damage bill was estimated to be a modest ST$300 million (A$120 million).

Our church family at Indooroopilly Uniting Church kindly donated some clothes, which were given to the extended family of Melelini Papalii in the village of Maagao, and ST$2 000 (A$800) which was used to help rebuild and re-roof the damaged classrooms of Vaivase Primary school in the village I grew up in.

Photo : Lelata village, Samoa, three weeks after cyclone Evan. Photo: Paul Tomane