This story is written by a young Samoan woman who survived Samoa’s tsunami. Because of its length, it will be posted as a three part series. When we first heard of this young woman’s experience, we contacted her to see if she would be willing to share her story with our readers, in her own words. Her name is Steph. Here’s an excerpt from what she wrote to us in which she stresses the need to hear other people’s stories:
Other stories are more miraculous than mine but I’m thankful I have somewhere to voice what happened where others cannot, and believe me, there are other stories from that disaster that I hopefully will be told to the world. God bless. Steph
In honour of all the dead, the victims, and survivors of Samoa and Tonga’s Tsunami.
By Steph Fa’amatala
This story is dedicated to Kenape the boy who held onto me.
My mother, my son and myself all travelled to Western Samoa on the 19th September 2009. We were heading to a village in Saanapu Tai on Upolu Island, where most of my mother’s family lived.
On the Tuesday 29th September 2009, between 6:30 to 7:30 in the morning, the earthquake struck. As the earth continued to tremble, my mother, my aunties, and all the elderly ladies were trying to get us kids out of bed, and out of the house, using those held samoan- made brooms, known as salu lima.
Photo frames were falling off the walls, flower necklaces, pictures, stereo and TV, all falling off. The computer fell off its table. Our suitcases fell off the tables it was on. Chairs were falling over backwards.
Us elder kids grabbed the little ones and tried to run out of the house. It was difficult as the ground was shaking so bad that you could not even walk straight. Everything was smashing all around us. The little ones were crying. The elders were screaming from outside to get out. The older boys were carrying the elderly up behind the houses and huts towards the hills and mountains. The little kids who were all dressed for school, were running up the hill, laughing, happy thinking, this is a game.
I grabbed my mother’s bag, and our passports, that were in our suitcases. I looked around and everyone was just standing around talking about what just happened. My mother and her sisters, were just telling us to run for the hills and to get away from the houses.
We started moving towards the hills but the majority of the villagers were still standing around wondering what happened … ( as Samoans sometimes do,) when the minister drove past in his car in a hurry and screamed that a tsunami was coming.
Everyone was for their own self after that. We were running but it was hard to run up the hill. I was wearing se’evae kosokoso (sandals), and the grass was high, the bushes were thick, the trees and shrubs were sharp but the loud explosion was what kept us going. It was an explosion like a bomb had been set off. Then there was a noise like a rushing sound only louder. Little did we know, as we were rushing up that hill, that the sound was the waves coming towards us.
Someone pushes me upwards and forwards. I’m pushing a neighbour’s child up the hill and pulling my cousin with me. I look far up ahead and see my mother crying and looking out towards the ocean behind me. I hear children screaming. The older boys are yelling:
Faakope le kamo’e la ua sau le galu! (“Run faster the wave is coming!”), kamomo’e! (“Run”).
I turn quickly only to see the house that we slept in half an hour before look so tiny against the big waves. It was a sight that i’ll never forget for the rest of my life. I look towards the bottom of the hill. There are still people coming…I knew that they might not make it.
I prayed and I cried. I knew what was coming and that some of us might not make it. I was shocked.
I see a man hold a woman to a tree and then throws himself around her and pushes her into the tree. I see men holding onto each other and holding onto fences that were the entrance to the hill. I knew I had to run but I couldn’t stop watching.
Someone slaps me on the head and screams, Aikae Kamoe! (S***t, run!”). It was my older cousin. He had already taken the kids off me and had ran straight pass me. I don’t remember much after that, but I knew that I had just keep going.
HONIARA, SOLOMAN ISLANDS: Burned out buildings in Chinatown are shown following rioting and looting April 20, 2006 in the Solomon Islands Capital of Honiara. Rioters angered by the election of the unpopular Snyder Rini as prime minister attacked police and plundered parts of Chinatown in response. One hundred and eighty Australian soldiers and police arrived in the capital to quell the protests. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)
Amnesty International Aotearoa NZ
Solomon Islands: Time to end safe haven for crimes under international law
Amnesty International has today launched Solomon Islands: End Impunity Through Universal Jurisdiction, the first paper of the No Safe Haven Series covering a country in the Pacific and the first to analyse a common law legal system.
The paper evaluates whether Solomon Islands has met its obligations as a member of the international community to define crimes under international law as crimes under national law and to provide effective universal criminal and civil jurisdiction over those crimes. The paper also examines whether Solomon Islands is able to cooperate – subject to human rights safeguards – with other states in the extradition of those suspected of such crimes and in the exchange of information to assist other states which are investigating or prosecuting them.
Solomon Islands’ courts can exercise universal criminal jurisdiction over grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. However, Solomon Islands has failed to define the most heinous crimes, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes (other than grave breaches), torture, extrajudicial executions or enforced disappearances as crimes under national law. Amnesty International is deeply concerned that Solomon Islands is, therefore, currently a safe haven from prosecution in its courts for foreigners who are responsible for these crimes (committed abroad against other foreigners).
A second series of concerns pertains to extradition. Amnesty International regrets that the Solomon Islands is also a safe haven from extradition to any country for foreigners who are responsible for genocide, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances committed abroad, as none of these crimes are listed as extradition crimes. In addition, such persons cannot be arrested and surrendered to the International Criminal Court or any other international criminal court.
Furthermore, no legislation authorises Solomon Islands to exercise universal civil jurisdiction, which means that it is unable to fulfil its obligations to provide full reparation for victims of crimes under international law.
Amnesty International is submitting this report to the Solomon Islands Law Reform Commission, urging it to take into account its detailed recommendations for law reform so that the country can fulfil its obligations under international law and rightly be at the frontline in the fight against impunity for the worst imaginable crimes.
This paper is the sixth in a series on each of the 192 member states of the United Nations, designed to help lawyers, victims, and their families identify countries where people suspected of committing crimes under international law might be effectively prosecuted and required to provide full reparations through universal jurisdiction.
Each paper also provides clear recommendations on how the government concerned can bring its national law into line with international law. The series aims to ensure that no safe haven exists anywhere in the world for those responsible for crimes against the entire international community.
To read the paper, Solomon Islands: End Impunity Through Universal Jurisdiction, please visit www.amnesty.org.nz/news/solomon-islands-time-end-safe-haven-crimes-under-international-law
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By Tupuola Terry Tavita in Apia
The village council of Saleaumua has unanimously agreed to move inland away from the coast. Of the 46 families there, only four remain on the coast. The rest are now spread out in encampments in the hills.
“We have seen the destruction caused by the (tsunami) wave and we do not want to experience that again,” said Village Mayor Tiumalu Amakesi. “We’ve therefore decided that it is best to move up to the hills.”
The village thanked government for the assistance it has given. Reports that aid is not reaching them, the village said, is completely unfounded.
“There is plenty of food, but we can always do with a bit more. Clothes are aplenty and we are indeed very thankful. The water trucks have been regular and there is plenty of clothes. We’d like to thank government and its many donor parents not to mention the charity of Samoans living abroad.”
The consensus at Saleaumua is that they want to move on. “We have a problem with running water in the hills and that is an issue we’d like to take up with the water authority,” said Paramount Matai Tafua Maluelue Tafua.
“Water can be easily sourced from a nearby stream but requires reticulation work.” The uphill settlement area also has to be clearly defined so that development work can go ahead, he said. “Right now getting people settled in and getting running water is the first priority,” said Tafua.
“Later, road works and power connection can take place. Perhaps what we also need now is asphalt to surface the access road up there to make it easier for transport and travel to the hills.”
Since the population has agreed to move inland, the village council Tiumalu said, has agreed that at some stage the school and churches too will move upland. “It’s only sensible that schools and places of worship should be close to where people live.”
However, the village has agreed that families’ fale talimalo (guest houses) will still be kept at the old village site on the coast. “It will be for sentimental purposes and somewhere people can stay if they come down from the hills once in a while.”
Saleaumua was completely destroyed by the recent tsunami. The village council has set up a committee to work with government and donor agencies in distributing tsunami assistance. The tsunami had swept everything away and what the residents there need now, they said, are items such as coking stoves, chainsaws to clear the land, wheelbarrows and other amenities.
“We have received tents and tarpaulins but we could always do with more. We’ve already received stuff like axes, spades, machetes and farming tools so we can go ahead and cultivate the land.”
Before the tsunami the village had a large communal pig pen. It was completely destroyed by the tsunami. The village has requested government for assistance in fencing material to corral the pigs as they’re now scattered in the bush.
‘It’s a way of helping us help ourselves. I hope a hundred yards of fencing wire is not too much of an ask.”
Source: Government of Samoa
American Samoa radio broadcaster Joey Cummings captures the incoming surge from the second story of Pago Plaza in Pago Harbor. He describes the disaster as it unfolds. You can hear the fear in his voice as he speaks.
Government of Tonga
TONGA: “HIS MAJESTY’S GOVERNMENT REACHES OUT TO NEIGHBORING SAMOAS”
The 8.3 Earthquake that rocked the Independent State of Samoa, American Samoa and also Tonga, which then triggered the tsunami that completely destroyed whole villages in these three Pacific countries, has left behind 190 deaths and thousands of islanders homeless. Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United States of America have promptly responded with assistance in money and in kind. Aircrafts and ships have quickly brought in food, clothing and medical supplies to these islands where most of the survivors are still stunned and emotionally shaken from the tsunami that had wiped out their homes and villages. Read the rest of this entry »
Within 24 hours of NZ Defence Force medics arriving in Samoa, they had set up a medical clinic at Poutasi. They carried the injured in Apati on military helicopters, and tended the injured and children. Field engineers helped to clear debris so villagers could grow crops; navy divers helped local Samoa police searching for bodies on the coastline of Lalomanu; engineers set up a water shelter for a water tank to stop it getting hot in the heat of Samoa; Royal Australian Hercules helps to transport NZ Defence Forces, including medics and supplies, to Samoa; aerial photos of devastation and damage along the South Coast of Upolu.
Photos: NZ Defence Forces
Photos supplied by Luamanuvao Winnie Laban.
Source: John J from SlideShare