Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I’m lucky to be alive

I’m sure most of you have heard about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Samoa by now and am wondering how I’m doing. Well, here’s the story:

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…I’m smart enough to know when things start falling it is probably wise to get out. So grabbed my phone and left my room. The shaking lasted a long time too, at least a minute. I texted a good friend here with the message of “shit that was big” when it was over. She agreed. 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. So I grabbed an ie and left.

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, versus parallel to the beach as I had been just one minute before, 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. I wanted to go and see if this was true, but I knew to stay. I waited a few hours then went to see what the damage was. 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. I’m not sure what can be salvaged. I’m going back tomorrow to find out what I can still use, but I know most things will be trashed.

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. I feel really bad about the three computers I had in my house for the school. I don’t think those will be salvaged, but another Peace Corps Volunteer already told me she would donate two to my school, so I’m happy about that. I also am upset that I don’t know where my dog is. I saw her after the earthquake, and then don’t know where she went. I hope she is ok. Animals are smarter than humans in many ways, so she probably left before I did, but I’m still worried. I hope I find her.

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.

Once in Apia, small aftershocks could still be felt throughout the day. Around 5:30 pm the tsunami sirens went off. Everyone headed up the mountains carrying what they could. It turned out to be a false alarm, but better safe than sorry. Most businesses were closed as people went to help.

Report is over 80 here are dead. If you want to help:

I want to say thank you to all my fellow PCVs. I don’t think my phone was quite for five minutes yesterday morning. Everyone wanted to see if I was ok; thanks, makes me feel loved. When I got to Apia, a bunch of people offered up their house and everyone wanted to know what they could do to help. I appreciate the support guys. You guys are awesome! Also to everyone who posted on facebook and sent me e-mails, thanks for your support as well. And finally to Teuila; I was awake after the earthquake but not enough awake to be thinking about a tsunami. If she hadn’t called right after the quake stopped, I probably would have been at my house. If I had left my house just a minute later…well, yeah.

I gave a written eyewitness account to Sydney Morning Herald and a phone interview to NY Daily News. Here’s the link for the NY article:

And the Sydney article:

So that is all I know for now. I’m off to buy some new clothes because I have the clothes on my back and one spare. I’ll keep you posted on what goes on.


  1. Erica, thank you for the post, especially so soon after the tsunami. It's shocking what happened. I arrived in Samoa the day after the tsunami and have only witnessed the aftermath. The organization I'm working for (SPBD) is putting together a relief effort for our clients out there. It's good to hear a firsthand account. I'm looking forward to reading more about the recovery effort. Hope you and your school remains safe! My heart goes out to you.