A week at the front line

Janna HamiltonOxfam aid worker Janna Hamilton arrived in Samoa 48 hours after the devastating tsunami struck. Here she writes about her experience.

One week at the front line

Sina returns to her property for the first time after the tsunami. Her father is buried in front of the house and she wants to remain close by. Photo: Jane Ussher
Sina returns to her property for the first time after the tsunami. Her father is buried in front of the house and although she is scared, she wants to remain close by.

I have been up and down Samoa's devastated southern coastline for over a week now, helping to distribute emergency supplies to affected families who have lost their homes. Sitting and speaking with these people, most of them vow never to live on the idyllic coast again.

One gentle old woman Sina, who lives with her 10-year-old grandson, had returned to the remains of her property for the first time after the tsunami. She told me she was incredibly scared and wouldn’t have come back had her father not been buried in front of her home.

So you can’t be surprised by the reaction in Samoa today, when the Pacific Islands were put on tsunami watch following another massive earthquake off the coast of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu.

When the sirens started sounding in Samoa’s capital, school students, office workers, mothers holding young babies, all poured out on to the roads that ran towards the mountain behind the city. Phones jammed instantly as people tried to call their family and friends.

One family had either packed really fast, or the fear of last week’s tsunami encouraged them to have a contingency plan – they were dragging suitcases up the hill.

We knew Samoa was only under tsunami watch - not a full alert but it didn’t make any difference to the people here, who will tomorrow bury many of the 175 dead in a mass burial.

I grabbed the car keys, went knocking on my neighbours’ hotel doors to fill up the car and we joined the chaos on the roads heading up the hill above the city.

In the back was a young Kiwi family, with a very excited seven-year-old Joshua, asking why he was woken from his afternoon nap for a slow car trip. His parents did an impressive job of distracting him.

When we were parked safely up the hill looking out to the calm ocean, I thought of Sina, and her frightened face recalling when the wave swept her up, wondering after today’s warning, whether she would really be able to live back there.

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