Church responds swiftly to Samoa disaster

Swift response from the Church following the devastation of Hurricane Val is helping alleviate a widespread need for food and shelter here.

Hurricane Val pounded the Samoan islands from Dec. 6-10. Twelve people were killed in Western Samoa and another in American Samoa. One Church member, Latu Kitione, was killed, and at least two members were seriously injured.All missionaries are safe and are involved in clean-up efforts.

Elder Douglas J. Martin of the Seventy and Pacific Area president toured the stricken islands Dec. 15-18.

"It looked like total destruction," he told the Church News in a telephone interview. "Where a house stood, the house was now spread over the size of basketball field with its [corrugated tin] roofing scattered like handkerchiefs way in the distance in the trees.

"On all the islands, there was no green. Every leaf was brown. The forsests were stripped to trunks and branches."

He said that a temporary bishops storehouse has been established at the Church's offices in Apia, and large amounts of supplies have been shipped from Australia and New Zealand by the pacific Area offices and were distributed from there throughout the islands. Regional representatives Elders Daniel Betham and Solovi Lueli U. Te'o are helping to supervise the relief efforts.

The Church also made a substantial contribution of food and tarpaulins to the government, said Elder Martin.

All of the 69 meetinghouses on Western Samoa sustained some damage, with about one-fourth seriously damaged, half moderately damaged and one-fourth with minor damage. Ten of 13 meetinghouses in American Samoa received major damage.

The Church's Pesega primary school in Upolu, and its Vaiola High School on Savaii, both in western Samoa, were seriously damaged. Vaiola High's faculty housing and old dormitories were seriously damaged. However, the students were on vacation at the time.

The greatest damage was to the homes of individual families, of which nearly all sustained some damage. Some villages were 95 percent destroyed while others fared somewhat better.

Various reports indicated that up to 100 percent of the food-bearing plants were destroyed. People are living on bananas, breadfruit and taro that had to be harvested immediately after the storm. Supplies are expected to last about another week.

Food and relief supplies were delivered to every bishop on the islands by Dec. 23, according to Edward Bishop, regional manager of the Church's area office in Apia.

Despite the privation and destruction, people in Samoa are happy and upbeat as they begin the task of rebuilding. "I didn't hear one word of complaint or self-pity," said Elder Martin.

Three former missionaries to Samoa were in the islands during the windstorm. The three, Jim Winegar, Dan Wakefield and Rex Maughn from Utah and Arizona, are associated with a foundation to restore the Robert Louis Stevenson home in Apia.

"The organization of the Church is very evident in Samoa," said Brother Winegar. "In the wards and branches, Church members are helping other Church members."

Through the storm, said Brother Wakefield, the temple withstood the winds and its emergency generators kept light on the tower and the Angel Moroni.

"It was about the only light in the whole end of the island," he said. "It stood out as a beacon in the storm."