PAGO, PAGO, American Samoa — A Baptist-sponsored Seafarers’ Center has been lost in the destruction by a deadly tsunami that struck several islands in the South Pacific on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
“Our Seafarers’ Center is a total loss,” reported Veryl Henderson, executive director of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention in Honolulu.
In response to a rash of storms to strike the globe this week, N.C. Baptist Men has dispatched an assessment team to Georgia; is responding to a request from Hungarian Baptist Aid by sending a doctor and two emergency medical technicians to the Philippines and is talking with Henderson about his future plans for the Seafarers’ Center.
A North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary directs the center in Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa and lives there his wife and three children. But Joeli Sovea, a NAMB Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary, his wife Tupe and their three children, Joel-Samuel, JoHannah and Joreignna, are now without a home.
The Soveas, indigenous citizens of American Samoa, have served at the Seafarers Center since their commissioning as NAMB MSC missionaries in May 2008.
The center has been an outreach primarily to fishermen by NAMB and the Hawaii convention. The Soveas also were instrumental in starting Seafarer’s Christian Fellowship, a new church plant in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, a U.S. territory with a population of 65,000.
The tsunami pushed four devastating waves — each 15 to 20 feet high — into Pago Pago Harbor, smashing boats, houses and other structures in its devastating path, pushing flooding a full mile into the island.
“All wood structures along the shoreline are gone,” Henderson said. “Boats have been deposited on land.”
At the Seafarers’ Center, all that remains is a concrete shell; the facility’s contents were destroyed.
NAMB’s disaster relief operations center in Alpharetta, Ga. — already open to coordinate a response to devastating floods in Georgia — is taking early steps to help in American Samoa, working closely with Henderson and others at the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.
A Hawaii convention feeding kitchen in Honolulu with the capacity to serve up to 3,000 meals a day will be flown to Pago Pago as soon as a flight can be arranged, NAMB disaster relief coordinator Bruce Poss reported. As many as 15 trained disaster relief volunteers in Hawaii, including two chaplains, also will be deployed to American Samoa.
“We’re looking at setting up the kitchen and a disaster response staging area at a school near Pago Pago,” Poss said.
The massive South Pacific tsunami is reported to have killed at least 99 overall — some 30 on American Samoa alone — and left dozens more missing, possibly swept out to sea. The death count is expected to climb. The tsunami was created by a powerful earthquake measuring from 8.0 to 8.3, which hit around dawn on Tuesday.
According to Associated Press, the earthquake was centered about 125 miles from Samoa, an island nation of 180,000 people located about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. Samoa is about 120 miles from American Samoa — a six-hour flight from Hawaii.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)