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Team surveys tsunami damage on Samoa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (BP)–A Baptist disaster relief team has traveled to American Samoa to assess needs stemming from the recent earthquake and tsunami.

“While the tsunami did extensive damage, the team was surprised to see how quickly the people of American Samoa began cleaning up the devastation,” reported Terry Henderson, operations consultant for disaster relief for the North American Mission Board.

Henderson, three disaster relief volunteers from the Honolulu-based Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention — Patrick Underwood, David Whitehead and Chris Martin — and Don Gann, DR consultant from the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board traveled to Pago Pago, American Samoa, for a tour of the battered island by Elise Tafao, director of Baptist Missions for American Samoa and pastor of Happy Valley Baptist Church in Pago Pago.

Following the Oct. 16 tour, the Baptist relief team met with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and ASVOAD (American Samoan Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) to determine the focus of the government and non-government agencies’ planned response. ASVOAD has identified five of the neediest communities; FEMA has provided two-person dome tents for the homeless; and the American Red Cross is distributing disaster relief supplies.

Because counseling for affected children has been designated as a priority, NAMB’s Henderson said disaster relief chaplains with the ability to relate to children are needed. Children who experienced the tsunami continue to show signs of post-traumatic stress, the team was told.

Clean drinking water also is a top need, Henderson said, because while water is available in most locations, Samoans are reticent to boil the water because “they have precious little money and can’t afford to use their propane fuel just for boiling water.”

Henderson reported that Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers purified water in the village of Masefau on Oct. 19.

“Pastor Tafao is interested in transporting water purification units into the hard-hit areas,” Henderson said. “Where and while the water is being purified, Baptist church members and disaster relief workers can minister to the people.”

Tafao said there is an ongoing need for cooking and eating utensils, pots and pans for cooking and children’s clothes since many Samoan residents lost all their belongings in the tsunami.

Tafao said six of the 31 tsunami victims were members of three churches in the South Pacific Baptist Association.

The Seafarers’ Ministry Center, an SBC ministry located in Pago Pago’s harbor district, was destroyed by the tsunami. All that remains of the center is its concrete shell. As a result, NAMB Mission Service Corps missionaries Joeli and Tupe Sovea lost not only their workplace but their home at the center.

Tafao said negotiations on a replacement facility for the Seafarers’ Ministry Center — located near the original one — are complete and that the Soveas and their three children have already moved in. Through the center, the Soveas minister to sailors — especially those on Chinese and Russian fishing vessels — docked in the Pago Pago harbor. Pago Pago is home to the largest tuna canneries in the world.

The Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention has established a fund for individuals and organizations wanting to support relief efforts in American Samoa. Donations may be mailed to the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, Samoa Disaster Relief Fund, 2042 Vancouver Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822. Donations also can be made through NAMB’s disaster relief website, www.namb.net/dr.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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