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Lesson learned from 2009 tsunami: The resilience and power of the human spirit

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said the lesson learned from the 2009 tsunami that “devastated our hearts and souls” is the “resilience and the power of the human spirit” and he called on residents to remember those who lost their lives on that fateful day.


Four years ago, this Sunday, Sept. 29, at 6:38 a.m. a strong 8.0 earthquake shook the Samoan islands and some 15 to 20 minutes later was followed by the most devastating tsunami ever to hit the Samoan islands. With towering waves, the tsunami killed 34 people in American Samoa, three in Tonga and more than 100 in neighboring Samoa.


The event was described by former Gov. Togiola Tulafono and other leaders as the “worst disaster” in American Samoa’s history, with millions of dollars in property damage and survivors who cannot forget that day.


In his first official tsunami anniversary as the chief executive, Lolo said the tsunami reawakened the people of American Samoa to the power and the ferocity of natural forces.


“The series of waves which hit the territory, not only indiscriminately destroyed property, but simultaneously devastated our hearts and souls with agonizing pain and sorrow for 34 of our loved ones, who were forever swept away from this life,” he said.


Although it's been four years since the disaster, Lolo said, “we continue to rebuild properties which were destroyed, while we struggle to mend our broken hearts and souls, for the wounds and the painful memories are edged deeply into our spirits.”


The tsunami left lasting memories which continue to periodically “flash through my mind,” said Lolo who shared his own personal experience of that morning, when he abandoned his car   near Mauga’s Guest House in Pago Pago as the first waves reached there, and he ran for higher ground by Mulipola Ernie Haleck’s residence and “jumped over a wide ditch”.


“While the memories and pain of the tsunami are still alive in our memories, God has given us the tools and the means to ease our pain,” said Lolo. His peace, providing tranquillity and serenity to our wounded souls, continues to help us heal.”


So on Sept. 29th this year, “while we offer our prayers for the souls of our loved ones, let us also thank God for His goodness and continued blessings on American Samoa,” he said.


According to the governor, a lesson learned from the tsunami is the “resilience and the power of the human spirit” and “we thank God for this Gift for it gives us the power to overcome our pain and suffering.”


“May God grant His peace upon all families with loved ones who perished due to the tsunami of Sept. 29, 2009, and let us never forget the lessons thereto provided— to be in a constant state of preparedness and to remain vigilant,” he concluded.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, joins American Samoa in remembrance of the four-year anniversary.


FEMA  responded quickly, arriving within 24-hours and has been a close federal partner during the rebuilding process.


“It is with both ongoing sympathy for the losses suffered by the American Samoan people, and admiration for their tenacity and resilience, that FEMA approaches the somber anniversary of the 2009 Tsunami,” said Nancy Ward, administrator for FEMA Region IX, that led FEMA’s assistance efforts in American Samoa.


“I am also proud that FEMA was able to play an important role alongside the American Samoan government in working together to solve some very large and real problems that have made American Samoa safer,” Ward said responding to Samoa News request for comments.


Ward was in the territory following the tsunami and the last time she visited was last year during the 3rd anniversary.


Victims and survivors of the tsunami will be remembered Sunday during church services territory wide and two separate events will be held over the weekend to honor and remember them.


Tomorrow, beginning at 11:30a.m., is the Rotary Club of Pago Pago and Hawaiian Airlines ceremony at the Tsunami Memorial Picnic Shelter located at Lions Park. Relatives of those who lost loved ones during the tsunami will be given the chance to provide testimonies about their loved ones, according to a public announcement, adding that this event is open to the public.


On Sunday, at the Healing Garden in Leone, will be the floating lanterns ceremony, a small community event hosted by the village starting at 6p.m. Nine residents, including two children from Leone perished in the tsunami and the Healing Garden was created in their memory.


The village plans to have 100 floating lanterns to be released by family members and friends and these lanterns will be floated and carried out by the tide in Leone Bay.


“Each lantern will bear individual prayers and personal moments to be remembered of their beloved family members and friends that were taken in the tsunami tragedy. This event is open to the public,” said Mrs. Ipu Avegalio-Lefiti, one of the village organizers.


Asked about the significance of the floating lantern ceremony, she explained that floating lanterns can have many significant symbols. “A single flame floating on water can give you a sense of peace, tranquility and spiritual awareness,” she told Samoa News. “To have it being carried towards the horizon to meet the sunset, has an everlasting effect.”


“We hope these natural elements will soothe the soul and give it a sense of celebration, as each lantern is launched carrying our hopes, love, fond memories and whispers of ‘Until we meet again’,” she said. “If one lantern can have that effect, imagine what 100 will do to lift the spirits of our people in giving God all the Glory.”


In Samoa, the anniversary of the tsunami will be tomorrow, which is Sunday in both the independent state and Tonga. The government in Apia is expected to hold an anniversary ceremony. Last year, the ceremony was held at the government’s burial site at Tafaigata where more than ten victims of the tsunami are buried.