Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Hurricane wreaks ruin in Samoa

Published: Saturday, Dec. 21, 1991

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Massive amounts of relief supplies from the Church have arrived in American and Western Samoa following extensive destruction by one of the worst tropical hurricanes in memory.

The windstorm, dubbed Hurricane Val, hit the islands of Samoa late on Dec. 7 and continued for about five days. Early reports indicate that some 65 percent of the residential homes on American Samoa and a higher percentage on the neighboring Western Samoa islands of Upolu and Savaii were damaged or destroyed. Roads, hospitals, and a fire station were also destroyed in the storm, which snapped telephone and utility lines, cutting off communication and power. Four-fifths of the islands' crops were destroyed.According to early reports, 17 people died in the 160-mile an hour winds. Among the dead was Church member Latu Kitione of the village of Luatuanu'u, who was climbing on his roof to secure it when the roof and and supporting structure were lifted off by the wind.

Damage to most meetinghouses in Western Samoa was extensive. According to early reports given to the Area Physical Facilities Office in Sydney, Australia, at least 50 percent of the exteriors and 65 percent of the interiors of a number of meetinghouses was damaged.

Also damaged were the Church schools. Half the roof was torn off the primary school in Pesega.

The temple in Apia, Western Samoa, received only minor damage. (Please see accompanying box.)

The hurricane left 4,000 homeless in American Samoa alone. About one-sixth of the American Samoa population of 38,000 and the Western Samoa population of 162,000 are LDS.

Pres. Falema'o M. Pili of the Pago Pago Samoa West Stake reported in a transmission through the Church's emergency radio system that 90 percent of the members' homes in his stake had been damaged. He said the greatest need was for shelter.

Hardest hit by the hurricane were the north and east side of the Western Samoa island of Savaii. This area "looked like an atomic bomb hit it," said one observer. "There was no green, no buildings standing, no shelter; just total and complete devastation."

The Church has taken an important role in dealing with the disaster. A large aircraft left Sydney, Australia, Dec. 13 - at the tail end of the windstorm - carrying 30 metric tons of tarpaulins, ropes, rice, flour, sugar, and canned meats for distribution on the hard-hit island of Savaii and the main island of Upolu, as well as in American Samoa. A government helicopter helped distribute the supplies.

Another 12 tons of food and 200 tarpaulins were donated by the Church, and shipped a few days later on Dec. 16 and delivered by an Australian government aircraft. Within two weeks, the Church will send by ship an additional quantity of rice, flour, canned fish and sugar, said Ray Forbes, purchasing agent in the Church's Presiding Bishopric Area Office in Sydney. The supplies will leave Sydney Dec. 27.

He said that tons of lumber and roofing steel had already been shipped to Samoa by the Church. "The rectification work can commence quickly," said Brother Forbes.

Elder Douglas J. Martin of the Seventy and Pacific Area president, arrived on the Samoan islands Dec. 15. He was accompanied by Richard A. Wilson, director of temporal affairs of the Church offices in Sydney.

The center of the windstorm crossed directly over the island of Savaii in Western Samoa, pounding it and the nearby islands for two days. Then, as the hurricane winds began to abate and people began to assess the extensive damage, the storm turned a full loop and returned back to the islands. During the second pass from different directions, the winds reached a higher velocity and wreaked devastation upon weakened structures, bridges, and farmlands, and exacted a severe toll on humanity.

The hurricane was particularly discouraging since it came just 20 months after a previous hurricane, Ofa, struck the Samoan islands and destroyed crops, villages and homes. That hurricane left $3.5 million in damages to Church property alone. Hurricane Val has been estimated at 50 percent worse than Hurricane Ofa.

Hurricane Val began building several hundred miles north of the Samoan islands. When it reached the islands, Church leaders activated the emergency radio system, reported Phillip Hague, the Church's national media specialist in New Zealand.

The system connects LDS ham radio operators in various countries. Links were established in Samoa, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

"Most of the earliest news reports were made possible through the emergency system. Despite the loss of power in other communications systems in Western Samoa, Ed Bishop, the Church's regional manager in Apia, Western Samoa, filed reports twice daily during the storm," said Brother Hague.

On the afternoon of Dec. 8, Brother Bishop reported winds of up to 150 miles per hour but "less damage than I thought there would be. . . . Both in Upolu and Savaii winds and rain have subsided. The worst has passed."

But the next morning he reported, "The cyclone stalled, then turned back on us coming from a different angle."

On Dec. 10 he reported significant damage, but, he hoped, "perhaps the worst is passed."

Later in the day, however, he wrote, "This is the worst day we have had." Very heavy winds, torrential rains, flooded streets blocked the route as he and other Church employees attempted to travel to the airport and Church office to assess damage.

On their return, "something impressed us to go back a different way. We did so - saw an injured girl - roof had blown over. We took her to the hospital."

The hurricane continued two days after this report.

Since that time, according to Graham Sully of the Church offices in Australia, Brother Bishop has done "a monumental job" of coordinating the relief efforts of the Church and provided assistance to the Samoan government in determining their needs.