Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami hits South Pacific islands -- Salesians report on situation

Please pray for the victims of this latest Tsunami in the Pacific. The following comes from AustraLasia:

Fr. Petelo Vito Pau, rector of the Salesian community center located near Apia, the capital of Samoa, reports that “all confreres are safe from the earthquake” and the tsunami that struck on September 29, causing widespread damage and loss of life to both Samoa and nearby American Samoa. Formerly known as Western Samoa, the independent nation of Samoa consisting of two main islands, Upolu and Savai’i, and several smaller islands, among them Manono.

Fr. Sefo Mulipola, a Salesian from the tiny island of Manono, reports that his family home was partly destroyed, but that the family are safe. It seems that the two Salesians on Savai’i island also are safe.

An earthquake of 8.3 magnitude, located some 120 miles to the south of the islands, caused several tsunami waves varying from 2 to 4 feet to strike the southern coastal areas of Upolu, the main Samoan island. Two of the Salesian centers are located on coastal strips, both fully susceptible to any rise in water level. We await further information on the effects of the tsunami on physical plant in these two areas, but it would seem that the brunt of the tsunami struck elsewhere.

Both the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters have communities and presences in Samoa, while the sisters have a community also in nearby American Samoa. At the moment we have no report on how they fared. More general media reports indicate that Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, was struck without warning. News reports often confuse the issue by talking of “Samoa” when they could mean either Samoa or American Samoa, but it would seem that loss of life is possibly as high as a hundred, even more, including both island groups.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of islands in the wider region. Two other large island groups, Tonga and Fiji, received tsunami warnings, and the reports are that an even more severe wave struck the northern islands of Tonga, which are very close to Samoa, with loss of life involved. We have Salesians from Tonga, but not in Tonga, and their families do not come from that part of the island group. We also have a Salesian community in Fiji, and the Regional Seminary which our men attend (and teach at) is located on a susceptible strip of coast. On this occasion, although students were evacuated from that area, no significant difficulties were reported. New Zealand also put out a tsunami warning, but later cancelled it. There have been no significant difficulties despite higher than usual water levels on northern coasts.

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