PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — While American Samoa’s overall death toll from the one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami remains at 31, six of the victims were Southern Baptists, Elise Tafao, pastor of Happy Valley Baptist Church in Pago Pago, reported.
“The South Pacific Baptist Association lost six members in three different churches — the Samoan-Korean Baptist Church, the Chinese Baptist Church of American Samoa and Faleniu Baptist Church,” Tafao said.
The church he has pastored 17 years, Happy Valley Baptist, is located in Pago Pago’s international airport area, which was not impacted by the tsunami. Tafao’s home also was spared.
But those living and working in the Pago Pago harbor district were not as fortunate. Tafao said only 15 minutes separated the 8.0 earthquake and the deadly tsunami Sept. 29 that sent four tidal waves — each 15 to 20 feet high — smashing into land, tossing boats, cars and structures around like toys.
North American Mission Board Mission Service Corps missionaries Joeli and Tupe Sovea are doing well, Tafao said, although the Seafarers’ Center — the couple’s ministry base at the harbor — was destroyed. The center’s concrete shell is all that remains, its contents swept out to sea by the tsunami. Since the Soveas’ commissioning in May 2008, the center had served as both their home and office.
Tafao said negotiations to lease a replacement facility were successful, and that the Soveas and their three children already have moved in. The new Seafarers’ Center also is in the harbor district, within walking distance of the original center and not far from the international fishing vessels — especially Chinese and Russian — that dock in the harbor. Pago Pago is home to the largest tuna canneries in the world.
“Our seafarers ministry hands out tracts and videos like the ‘JESUS’ movie,” Tafao said. “In the old center, we had a chapel, telephones, international calling cards for sale, a fax machine and a post office so the fisherman could contact their families back home.”
Tafao estimated a minimum of $20,000 will be needed to replace the center’s big-screen TVs, office supplies, telephones, computers and ping pong and pool tables.
“The center will be closed for at least a month,” the pastor said.
Electricity has been restored to most of the island, Tafao said, but landline telephone service remains out, although cell phones are working. Because the airport was unaffected, two or three military planes are flying in food and supplies each day from Hawaii to American Samoa.
Tafao said residents who lost everything in the tsunami — such as the Soveas — need replacement pots and pans, cooking and eating utensils, dishes, children’s clothing and other typical household items.
“An 80-year-old man — who lived in one of the hardest-hit villages and who we took food and clothing to — told me he’s seen more of the love of God displayed since the tsunami than ever before,” Tafao said.
Tafao said a Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention-owned feeding kitchen will not be flown in from Honolulu to American Samoa as originally planned.
“The American Red Cross said it is no longer needed because much of the available food on American Samoa is being provided through existing federal school lunch program inventories,” he said.
The Hawaii Pacific 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 can also be made through NAMB’s disaster relief website, www.namb.net/dr.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)