Samoa Government Urged To Probe Flooding

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Vaimauga residents blame unsecured power company dam

By Jasmine Netzler and Kerstin Ofisa

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 7, 2013) – In Samoa, hundreds of people in Vaimauga whose homes, properties and businesses were wiped away by flooding during Cyclone Evan want answers.

They want the Government to investigate the cause of the flood.

They say Cyclone Evan cannot be blamed entirely for the unprecedented flooding that has left them with millions worth of damage.

Many of them claim that the flooding was the result of the Electric Power Corporation’s (EPC) Alaoa Dam being left opened.

Some of them live just below the dam. They say the massive pipes couldn't contain the water and when they broke, "it created chaos."

Nearly a month after the cyclone, the memories of what happened are still fresh.

Tiauli Lelea, 50, was in his house when the Faleole Fe’e, Maualuga, Puleilei Falls, Alavai o le Moli, and Alaoa streams that lead straight into the Alaoa channel burst.

"I’ve lived here all my life and there hasn’t been anything like this before," he said.

"There’s only one reason why those villages were wiped out by the water and I think EPC didn’t close the Alaoa Dam. They left it opened causing the water from the rivers that feed the dam to spill straight to areas below."

Mr. Lelea said the broken pieces of pipes show how strong the water flow was.

"The water didn’t crawl in slowly," he said. "It came at a such a speed that we didn't have time to react. The flooding only lasted about twenty minutes."

So how does he know that the dam was left opened?

"We can see it from where we live when they clamp the locks down to close the river from rushing into the dam. It’s always opened and I don’t know how they determine when to open or close it. If they had locked it down that day, the destruction wouldn't have been so bad."

Having lived in the area for a long time, Mr. Lelea said he knows how the river works.

"We know when it naturally bursts," he said. "What happened that day was not natural, there had to be something."

Mr. Lelea said massive water pipes like "the size of a tunnel" run through his village. "So when these water pipes broke, there is nothing we could’ve done. The water was devastating, it was scary."

Mr. Lelea said if the water pipes were buried, the damage could have been minimal.

"I really believe there should be an investigation into what caused the flood," he said. "Many people who live further down the river whose homes were destroyed don’t know but they should be told."

The other areas severely affected were Magiagi, Lelata, Leone,Alaoa, Fa’atoia, Matautu, Apia Park, Leone and Vaisigano.

Mr. Lelea lost a cousin in the flood. His parent’s brick house was also destroyed.

"The water dug up my 13-year-old sons’ grave that was outside my parent’s house which wasn’t even two years old. That’s all gone now, not to mention my own house just meters before the Alaoa Dam."

Mr. Lelea’s neighbor, Faitala said questions should be asked of EPC.

"The EPC workers usually leave the dam open and this was the case when the flood struck. There was just too much water that it even broke the filter that was in the dam."

Faitala said the dam is now filled with logs.

"Up until now, no one has come to clear those logs and day by day, the smell from the dam is getting worse."

Fialauia Hunt, who lives on the mouth of the river and behind the Samoa Water Authority (SWA) compound said the flooding during Cyclone Evan was "something else."

"The two streams broke at the same time meeting together at one place and it swept everything in its path," she said. "We thought that it was a normal flood however when the electricity pole next to our house fell and the water started to rise over the bridge, we knew then that something worse was on its way."

Ms. Hunt said they immediately alerted the other families nearby.

"We started running up the hill for safety."

According to Ms, Hunt, the flood covered the entire area - damaging most of the houses including the water catchments owned by the Samoa Water Authority (SWA) and the dam at Alaoa.

The flood also washed away the bridge used by villagers to travel from Alaoa to Ueligitone at Magiagi, said Vaitu’utu’u Asoleaga.

This was the only link between the two villages.

"It will take ages to recover this mess and the dam is completely damaged. Logs from the mountain filled up the whole dam and it’s going to need a lot of work to clear it out."

Repeated attempts to get a comment from EPC were unsuccessful.

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