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Relief for Samoa continues to pour in

150,000 pounds of Church supplies reach disaster zone, help victims

A deadly earthquake-generated tsunami brought horror and despair to coastal regions of the Samoan Islands in the morning hours of Sept. 29. Comfort and relief arrived just two hours later as local priesthood and Relief Society leaders responded, delivering assistance to survivors of the historic disaster that claimed the lives of 25 members.

Then relief arrived through the air.

A Church-chartered DC-10 aircraft filled with 150,000 pounds of relief supplies took off from the Salt Lake City International Airport Oct. 6 and arrived in Western Samoa that same day. Hours later, folks who endured the disaster were enjoying a welcome meal and perhaps a fresh change of clothing from items included in the emergency airlift.

"The immediate needs [of victims] are being met by us and many others," said Lynn Samsel, director of the Church's Emergency Response. "The recovery is well in hand and people are putting their lives back together."

Church leaders called the air shipment "a supplement" to the assistance that was provided initially in the Samoas.

"Within two hours [after the quake] we had our priesthood leaders on the ground in the devastated areas assessing the needs of the members and their neighbors," said Elder James J. Hamula of the Seventy, who serves as second counselor in the Church's Pacific Area. "Within hours, relief was being given to those in distress."

The bulk of the air shipment consisted of essential provisions needed by victims who were, in some instances, left with nothing besides the clothes on their backs: food, hygiene items, clothing, bedding, mosquito nets, wheelchairs and crutches.

Full-time missionaries in Samoa join airport workers in unloading hygiene kits and other relief supp
Full-time missionaries in Samoa join airport workers in unloading hygiene kits and other relief supplies from a Church-sponsored air shipment that arrived on the island nation on Oct. 6. The provisions will offer relief to tsunami victims. | Photo courtesy of Samoa Apia Mission

"The donations of our members — be it in money or goods — is what makes these relief items possible," said Elder Hamula.

The Church became a partner with the international humanitarian assistance organization Islamic Relief to cover the cost of chartering the cargo plane. That group's communications manager, Mostafa Mahboob, said Islamic Relief has developed a relationship of trust and friendship with the Church while working together in the aftermath of catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina.

"We're able to come together in a time of need when disaster strikes," said Mr. Mahboob.

When the air shipment arrived in Apia, Samoa, a team of workers that included full-time missionaries unloaded the massive payload, placed the various items on trucks and moved them to the Church's warehouse in Samoa (formerly Western Samoa). Items in the first wave of the relief shipment were then transported to affected regions to be distributed by the local priesthood leaders to members and others in need. The remainder of the supplies were warehoused and will continue to be distributed to those in need under the direction of priesthood leaders, said Brother Samsel.

Canned, boxed and bagged food items from the shipment included corn, peaches, rice, pears, beef stew and dried milk.

Workers in Western Samoa unload relief supplies from a DC-10 aircraft that arrived from Utah on Oct.
Workers in Western Samoa unload relief supplies from a DC-10 aircraft that arrived from Utah on Oct. 6, 2009. | Photo courtesy of Samoa Apia Mission

The Samoa-bound air shipment helped provide basic relief to the victims — but the Church anticipates offering additional assistance as local leaders turn their attention to rebuilding homes and helping members find adequate shelter. The Church's long-term assessment of the disaster is ongoing, according to Peter Evans of the Church's Welfare Department.

"We are looking at the need for rebuilding some homes," added Brother Samsel.

Samoa Apia Mission President O. Vincent Haleck Jr. said people "were thrilled" to receive the supplies included in the air shipment. Samoans living in less impacted regions appear to be returning to their normal, daily routines, he added. The missionaries continue to be utilized in more troubled areas.

To help alleviate the suffering of victims of an earthquake-caused tsunami in Samoa, Church supplies
To help alleviate the suffering of victims of an earthquake-caused tsunami in Samoa, Church supplies were loaded on a DC-10 aircraft in Salt Lake City. | Michael Brandy, Deseret News

"We're helping out with the recovery as much as we can," said President Haleck.

The Church's capacity to respond quickly and efficiently is a reflection of the Christian discipleship of its members worldwide, said Elder Hamula. They are following the Savior's example to "feed the hungry" and "clothe the naked."

"When there is a need, our people — who believe in Jesus Christ — respond."

Brother Samsel said members and others can continue to assist the victims of the Samoa disaster and other catastrophes by contributing to the Church's humanitarian fund and other reputable charitable organizations.

"We are so appreciative of the members of the Church and many others who have been so generous," he said.

jswensen@desnews.com

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