News and blog reports reveal Peace Corps Volunteers had close encounters with the Samoan natural disasters of September 29.
Erica Wales, who serves in Salesatele, Falealili, Upolu, Samoa and blogs at Peace Corps Adventures in Samoa writes about getting to higher ground before the tsunami destroyed her house and that of her neighbors. In the immediate aftermath Peace Corps staff picked her up and brought her to the Samoan capital Apia:
I was sleeping when the 8.0 earthquake hit. My house started shaking and things were falling off shelves. Books fell down, the phone mounted on my wall fell down, cans of food fell…. So grabbed my phone and left my room…. About that time I got a call from the Peace Corps medical officer that I should probably move inland because the possibility of a tsunami. …
I was walking on the road which parallels the beach when I noticed something wasn’t right. I could see structures like rocks and coral which I have never seen above water, not even at the lowest of low tides. This didn’t bode well. Then I noticed the really odd wave action, something just wasn’t right. I had just turned the corner of the road and was now headed inland…when the waves hit the beach and surged up the road. At this point I started running, as did my village. As I was running I could hear the water surging up the river, tearing trees down.
I got up to the main road where most everyone was. The matai were directing everyone to head to Siuniu, the village inland. I could see the look of panic and worry as parents asked where their kids were, for they were headed to the primary school which is near me. The matai were organized and knew where to direct the parents to in order to find their kids. I went up to Siuniu and waited with my village. At this point we were getting reports of a school in Poutasi (a few villages to the west) collapsing and killing three kids. Everyone was on phones, calling relatives and friends in neighboring villages, trying to find out what was going on. Reports came that 50 people in Poutasi were dead, buried in the sand. A boy in neighboring Salani died. And 15 in Aleipata were dead. As far as I know at this point, no one in my village died. We are lucky.
Then I got a report that my house and another were destroyed. …Sure enough, my house was flattened. The tsunami ripped the house from its foundation and deposited it 10 feet in front of the house, collapsed beyond repair. I could see all of my stuff waterlogged and muddy….
While that is unfortunate, at least it was just my house and not my home. The other family I feel bad for because it was their home. I had stuff there which will be expensive to replace, but it wasn’t everything in the world I owned, just everything I Samoa I owned. Most of my stuff is still back in the US. I feel bad for the other family who truly lost everything. …
The Peace Corps Office came out and drove me to Apia. I could see the damage in the villages as I passed. Poutasi looks pretty bad; boats are inland, houses devastated, and the school collapsed. Their village is pretty flat on the seaward side, so the wave did quite a bit of damage. The district hospital there looked like it was spared, might have water damage though. As we were driving over Cross Island Road, many cars were headed south to help clean up and try to find their family. …
Sara Reeves, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Faleula, Samoa, who blogs at See Reeves with her husband, wasn’t in the direct path of the tsunami (though she did feel the quake) and has contributed many blog posts about the disaster —including photos, maps, and requests for help. She’s gotten enough media inquiries from reporters that she even posted a note offering her permission (and Peace Corps’s) to quote her blog. Also check out her Flickr photo stream.
The Peace Corps program was started in 1967, and all 35 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Samoa currently are accounted for and safe according to a press release from the agency. Peace Corps pays utmost attention to Volunteer safety, and updates and rehearses Emergency Action Plans regularly. The Samoan program isn’t being suspended at this point in response to the disaster.