SAMOA ON SLOW ROAD TO RECOVERY

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Some complain, others glad for fresh start

By Sean Dorney APIA, Samoa (Radio Australia, Mar. 4, 2010) – Many in Samoa are determined to make a fresh start. Simple structures are appearing all over Samoa's tsunami-devastated islands, with many built by international aid and overseas volunteers.

"We're here for two weeks and ten of us come from Queenstown and we hope to do, say, ten a week," said Alister Saville from Habit for Humanity in New Zealand.

Five months ago, an undersea earthquake struck 170 kilometres off the coast. Measuring 8.1, it was not as severe as the recent disaster in Chile, but far more powerful than the one that devastated Haiti in January.

Within minutes, a terrifying tsunami raced shorewards at hundreds of kilometres an hour, obliterating most of what lay in its path, and taking more than 200 lives, 143 of them in Samoa.

A lot of the debris has been removed, but poignant reminders of the tragedy still remain. Joe Annendale's Sinale Reef Resort & Spa was wrecked.

"This is where John Howard stayed when he came just a few years ago," he said. "The wave just went in, smashed all the front windows, popped the floors and went in underneath and lifted the wooden floors, and it carried on and smashed the back walls out."

But he suffered a more personal loss - while trying to escape the tsunami with his wife, her ailing mother and her mother's nurse in their car, it was engulfed, rolling over and over.

"The nurse fell out early," he said. "And my wife, she fell out as well, and she didn't make it, because the waves must have picked her up and swept her along, and we had to bring her down from on top of a cluster of trees, about 300 metres upland. And it was tragic, because she was trapped up there, and by the time we found her, it was all too late."

Joe Annendale is rebuilding, and hoping to open for business again in April.

"We're looking at about $5.8 million," he said. "That's the amount of money we need to get things replaced and repaired, so that would be about the same."

Samoans are deeply religious. At the biggest church in Lalomanu village, which lost 43 people, prayers are said every week for those killed.

A local doctor, Esmay Al Leong-Seuala, worked with an Australian medical team in the tsunami's immediate aftermath. Back in early October, she said her people intended to move inland.

"It's not safe to be living next to the beach," she said. "As appealing as that may be, it's just not safe for us."

Five months on, her family has moved to well above where the house once stood.

"It wasn't just our house, it was the whole extended family," she said. "All the house completely disappeared within seconds, really. The tsunami's still there. The thought of it is still there, but I think people have pretty much moved on. We're rebuilding, starting new lives. People have picked up."

The Samoan government is providing money to help families relocate.

Seuala Tauia Kitiona, Samoa's agriculture minister and husband of Dr Al Leong-Seuala, says there's a grant to help people who've lost their homes to build a simple open fale with a separate bathroom and toilet.

"So the Government is building a shelter like this - it's all amounting to about $18,000," he said. "The government has already built about 165 buildings."

He says they are expecting 540 buildings to be built, but some have complained that it is taking too long.

One family that used to live in this village, Satitoa, further round the coastline has benefited from donations raised by an expatriate Samoan community in Queensland.

Not wanting to live down by the coast any more the Siamoa family like many others has decided to move and they've relocated several kilometres inland up a nearby valley.

Annie Siamoa saw two relatives die, one a close cousin, and the family lost everything.

"We have no clothes, no food to eat," she said.

Australia's High Commissioner, Matt Anderson, went to see their new home.

"The house behind us has actually been built through donations from the people of Townsville," he said. "This is 18,000 tala or about $9,000, and a week of very hard labor from the Samoan builders."

Annie Siamoa says the family does now feel more secure.

"When a tsunami comes, we can stay further away," she said. "I think its very, very safe here."

Matt Anderson says a big part of the assistance through non-governmental organisations is to provide counselling services.

"Trauma is, in one sense, it's the under-reported aspect of this tsunami," he said. "You can't have a tsunami affect 40 kilometres of coastline, and 5,500 people, with 140 lives lost and people not suffer real and ongoing psychological issues."

The spirit of the Samoan people in rebuilding their lives is something to admire

"I think much of that has to do with the amount of support that we've had from overseas," Joe Annendale said. "The international community has been just overwhelming - family, friends, acquantances - for us at the hotel - former guests. We've just been inundated with messages, and some have sent money, and if that doesn't spur you on, what will. What else is there?"

The temporary shelters some have lived in for months are gradually being replaced.

Samoa is definitely on the rebound, picking itself up from the tsunami disaster.

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