Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cyclone Evan: One Year Later

One year ago today, December 13, 2012 in Samoa—Dec. 12 in the U.S.—my faith and endurance was about to be tested in what would prove the most challenging week of my nearly three years in Samoa. At this time last year, there was a cyclone bearing down on that remote Pacific island, yet few anticipated the strength it was approaching with.

The day began in my former Peace Corps village where I had stayed the night with a very dear family; I had been at Saulo’s house. It was a Thursday morning and the next day, Saulo, Neueli, and Milo, were to head back to the United States with me to begin their Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative. It had been months in the planning and excitement levels were at their peak.

Heading into town that Thursday morning, the wind and rain were increasing with strength. I was traveling into town with all of the boys’ parents to take care of some last minute paperwork before the boys’ trip the U.S. But when I left, I never knew it would be the last time I would see my village as the “normal” I had always known. The next time I would return, Milo’s house would be completely destroyed and Saulo’s house would be without a roof. The trees would be stripped bare of their leaves and the coconut palms bare of their branches. However, what I would discover was that although these physical things would change, the faith of my friends and families there in the village would only increase and grow stronger; they would not be damaged by a Category 3 Tropical Cyclone, but instead they would grow in patience, endurance and trust in God.

In the capital of Apia that afternoon, I tried to gather details about our upcoming international flight the next day, while also trying to remain optimistic that our plans would not be changed. I completed the paperwork with the boys’ parents and they asked me if I wanted to go back to the village with them. I will forever wonder if I made the right decision, but in the end, I decided to go to my house on the western side of the island because it would give me easier access to the capital in order to monitor our travel plans. They got in the van and headed back to their village and I prayed they would be safe.

Over my three years in Samoa, I had done my fair share of hitchhiking, but never before while a cyclone was hitting the islands. Nonetheless, that was the position I found myself in as the bus service was very limited, taking me only half the distance to my house. I wanted to get to my house to make sure my things were secure. I trusted that the boys and their families were safe back in my former Peace Corps village.

Arriving home just before the worst of the cyclone hit, I found my kitchen had been taking a soaking as the wind hurled rain through the slat windows. My ceiling was leaking, and power had gone out, but I was safe. I rode the storm out over the next several hours, gaining very little sleep during a night that never seemed to end as rouge bands of the storm seemed to linger long after the worst of the storm had hit.

That night I used my laptop to charge my cell phone and used my small FM radio to receive updates from the stations in town. When one station ran out of fuel for their generators, I turned to another station and found myself listening to Radio Australia, as even they reported on what would turn out to be the worst cyclone to hit Samoa since the early 1990’s.

That night, I wondered if the families in my Peace Corps village were safe. All I wanted to do was get back out there to be with them and see if they were ok. Somehow, I finally was able to fall asleep, but the next morning would bring all kinds of challenges. December 14th would become a day of waiting and worrying, while at the same time a day of prayer and trust…

(Please check in tomorrow as I write the 2nd of this three part anniversary remembrance blog)

The heavy rains and winds were strong, but were even more severe on the eastern side of Upolu island near my Peace Corps village.

In Apia on Dec. 13th, a few hours before the worst of Cyclone Evan arrived.