Samoans Recovering from Hurricane’s Destruction

“Samoans Recovering from Hurricane’s Destruction,” Ensign, Mar. 1992, 75

Samoans Recovering from Hurricane’s Destruction

Hurricane Val, one of the worst tropical storms in recent history, hit Western and American Samoa, leaving at least 17 people dead and more than 65 percent of the homes on the two islands damaged or destroyed.

Among the dead is a Church member in Western Samoa who was climbing on his roof to secure it when he was lifted off by the wind. At least two members were seriously injured, according to early reports.

All 69 of the Church meetinghouses in Western Samoa were damaged. Ten of the 13 meetinghouses in American Samoa sustained major damage. Hardest hit by the five-day storm, which began on December 7, was the Western Samoan island of Savaii. Church schools were also damaged. The Apia Samoa Temple, however, received only minor damage from water leaking in through the roof above the foyer.

The greatest damage was to residential homes. According to a report from the Church’s Department of Welfare Services, 90 percent of member homes in American Samoa were damaged. Many members fled to meetinghouses for shelter. And shelter continues to be one of the greatest needs in the area as the Samoan people begin to recover from this disaster. The other need is food. Some reports indicate that up to 100 percent of the crops in the storm-stricken areas were destroyed.

The Church quickly responded to the islanders’ needs. On December 13, an airplane left Sydney, Australia, with 30 tons of tarpaulins, ropes, rice, flour, sugar, and canned meats. Another 12 tons of food and 200 tarpaulins were sent a few days later, with an additional shipment of rice, flour, canned fish, and sugar sent at the end of December, said Ray Forbes, purchasing agent in the Church’s Presiding Bishopric Area Office in Sydney. Lumber and roofing steel have also been sent to the islanders.

Food and relief supplies were sent to a temporary bishops’ storehouse, which was established at the Church’s offices in Apia. By December 23, every bishop in the area had received supplies and was distributing them to members, based on their individual and family needs.

All missionaries in the area were safe and were involved in relief aid.

As the storm hit the islands, Church leaders activated the Emergency Radio System—a previously organized ham radio operation that links Latter-day Saint radio operators in various countries. Links were established in Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.

As telephone and electricity systems became unavailable, the Latter-day Saint radio operators offered the only reliable information and communication during the storm and for several days following. Radio operators used either a standby generator or batteries, and in one instance, a missionary wired a radio to a car battery.

Approximately one-sixth of American Samoa’s population of 38,000 and Western Samoa’s population of 162,000 are members of the Church.

The storm uprooted trees and dumped water and mud in Western and American Samoa. (Photography by Dan Wakefield and Rex Maughan.)

A family surveys the damage Hurricane Val caused to their home.

The Aiono family is grateful for protection and safety during the storm.