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“I should have prepared”

The remains of Falaula Paulo’s home in Pago Pago after Tropical Storm Gita destroyed it. He says he should have listened to his wife and ‘prepared’ for the coming storm, instead of listening to rumors and friends that it would just be ‘strong winds’. [photo by AF]
A father laments home lost in storm

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Some families have admitted that Tropical Storm Gita caught them unprepared, because they underestimated the damage it could cause. One family spoke to Samoa News last week about their ordeal — where their house was left with no walls, no roof, as they fled to a government shelter during the storm that had strong gusts of winds of up to 85 mph, with pounding rain following on its heels.

“I was not aware of whether or not there was going to be a strong storm or cyclone coming. I was relying on verbal reports from some of the village people and friends that there was ‘no hurricane’ but only strong winds,” recalled Falaula Paulo.

Speaking with Samoa News this week, Paulo said that Gita destroyed two of the small houses his family had lived in for decades.

“We were not even prepared for anything to happen, we just sat around on Thursday night inside our house thinking that we will not be affected by the strong winds, but when Friday morning came, our two small houses were gone. We are devastated but at the same time are grateful to God for His protection,” he said.

Paulo, his wife and two little children were living in one house, while his uncle and wife and their 4 children occupied the other.

Paulo and his uncle are employed as carpenters at one of the local construction companies on island, while their wives work at StarKist Samoa as fish cleaners. Two children attend high school, while the young ones attend elementary.

When asked about what lesson he learned from this natural disaster and what he must do as an example for other people, Paulo said that “preparation” is the key.

“I’ve learnt a lot from this hurricane — that I should not rely on rumors or on the reports from my friends and other people, but I must be prepared at any time when a hurricane, storm or only strong winds are said to be coming at us. I don’t want this thing to happen to my family again. We should have done something to try and save our houses for our children to live in, unfortunately we were unprepared for it,” he said.

According to Paulo, it was after work two weeks ago, Thursday, when he heard rumors that there was a possible hurricane coming to American Samoa. He did not take it seriously because he thought that the hurricane season for Samoa had just passed – that it’s between November of last year and January of this year.

“My wife instructed me to bring our old tin roofing that were stacked at the back of the house to protect our house windows from the wind and the rain that would be caused by the coming storm, but I told her that there is no storm coming to Samoa,” recalled Paulo.

Paulo said that according to rumors and on the air reports he got from his friends, there was no hurricane or storm, “only strong winds” coming.

“I underestimated Gita by ignoring my wife’s advice. I wish I could turn the time back so that I could correct my mistake, but it’s too late for now, but I hope that my story will help anyone else out there who is just like me,” said Paulo with tears in his eyes.

“Look at where my house was standing,” said Paulo pointing to the location where his house used to stand. “That was the place God gave me to raise my family, unfortunately I failed to do my part as a father.

“I thank God for saving my family’s life and even our whole nation from this natural disaster. Even though we lost everything because of the storm and the rain, we’re still grateful that we’re worshiping a living and awesome God who ignores our failures, but helps us during our time of need.”

Paulo, together with his family and his uncle’s family moved to a government shelter at a high school building Friday morning.

Paulo’s wife, Makerita, is a 40-year-old mother, who was in tears when she heard her husband’s story.

“It’s really sad if we think about it. It really hurts me because our family had a chance to do something to protect our house especially our essential belongings. Unfortunately, it was all my husband’s fault; he took the advice of his friends instead of listening to me, his wife,” she said.

Asked about the most important thing on her mind after Gita took away everything the family had, Makerita smiled and said, “My dream is that one day, we’ll live in a brick house with my children. Our wooden house is gone and I know for sure that God will provide for our needs through a good Samaritan so that we can build a new and a solid house for us.

“This is the house my husband built over ten years ago. As you can see in our area, there’s water everywhere and you know the unhygienic conditions that come with water and dirt, it’s never good — but I pray that I will not be seeing this condition very soon.

“I know it sounds funny to other people if they read your newspaper about our family’s ordeal, but I’m saying this from my heart that I hope that sooner or later something good will happen for my family.”

Paulo and his wife did not want their photo to be published in the newspaper.

In the meantime, the Samoana High School shelter has closed its doors due to school beginning this week Tuesday. Samoa News was told by a villager of Pago Pago that the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Mauga Tasi Asuega, through village leaders, faipule and faifeau, has asked that different church denominations to open their halls to families in need and provide shelter — to house and feed these displaced families.

The villager said his church is currently taking care of 3 families, and there is a question of whether or not the government will continue to feed these families through the school lunch program. He said they are feeding them while awaiting an answer from the government.