1 Oct 2013

Samoan Villages reflect on the September 2009 tsunami

5:19 pm on 1 October 2013

People reflecting on the devastating tsunami four years ago, say emotions and memories from that day are still fresh in their minds.

The 29 September 2009 tsunami ripped through villages, homes and businesses, killing 143 people in Samoa, 34 in American Samoa and 9 in Tonga.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

Across the coastal villages of Upolu, memorial church services were held, and people marched in black and white for those whose lives were taken four years ago. In Lalomanu village, Lydia Sini To'omalatai says her family rebuilt their Litia Sini Beach Resort within the first year of it being destroyed, but the sadness of losing loved ones is still raw in their hearts.

"LYDIA SINI TO'OMALATAI: As far as regaining our lives from what has happened, it has never, it will never be the same, it has not been the same. But we have all managed to move on and put that behind us because we believe it's the only way we can move on, by not dwelling in the past and what had happened. It's a cause of disaster, it's something that is definitely not under our control."

In Leone village alone in American Samoa, 11 people were killed, and about 100 floating lanterns were released at sunset on Sunday to remember all who were lost. The High Talking chief of Leone village, Fiu John Saelua, says no-one wants to dwell on the horrible things that happened that day.

FIU JOHN SAELUA: We want to remember those when they were alive, when they were walking and talking and sharing and laughing with us. We don't want to remember because I myself and the whole village went out and looked for those bodies of those mothers and children and brothers. It was a horrible scene. We don't want to remember those.

Fiu John Saelua says healing from the 2009 disaster is an ongoing process, and creating a 'healing garden' where people gather to reflect has helped in the years since.

FIU JOHN SAELUA: A place where we can go, share, and try to heal ourselves spiritually, mentally and try to forget all that morning. The natural disaster not only claimed the lives of our loved ones, but restructured our village in one way or another. It was never the same again. Most of the families that was right on the coastline, they claim they don't want to go back there.

Lydia Sini To'omalatai says while infrastructure is adequate in Lalomanu village, they are still waiting for better escape routes.

LYDIA SINI TO'OMALATAI: We have a couple of tracks that we have man-made here, just behind where our business is located and people are aware of where they are, but were are hoping the government would input a much more safer evacuation route throughout the whole coastal area that were affected. I know they are working on getting it together, and I know they keep saying it will happen, so we're just hoping that it will happen soon.

The Samoa Disaster Management Office says it will be constructing evacuation routes in Saleapaga and Lalomanu, and is hoping to install sirens on the South Coast by early next year. A spokesperson for the office, Filomena Nelson, says they are also continuing community disaster awareness programmes, and training emergency response teams in each village.

FILOMENA NELSON: T he villages themselves are the first responders, immediately when the threat exists or immediately after, so the villages are expected to respond, whenever something happens. So they will become first respondents. And that's why we are trying to build their capacity so they are able to do that.

She says they will be responsible for warning, evacuation, first aid, and search and rescue.