AusAID media adviser, Samoa
Two months after an earthquake and devastating tsunami struck Samoa, the clean-up that started in the days after the emergency is moving into top gear.
All day long, trucks and heavy earthmoving equipment remove rubbish and debris. Roads are being rebuilt, power poles and lines replaced and water pipes restored. Village clean-ups continue and some people have started to return to what remains of their homes close to the beach. Others have moved to higher ground, to make new lives in village plantations.
Australia is playing a major role in Samoa's rebuilding and recovery.
Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Matt Anderson, said an Australian-funded disaster recovery expert is working with the Samoan Government to help coordinate the rebuilding task.
"Australia's assistance to Samoa's tsunami relief and recovery effort now stands at A$12 million, we have experts working with the Samoan Government on rebuilding and the Australian Navy's HMAS Tobruk recently delivered aid supplies and equipment. This is all part of our ongoing assistance to Samoa following the tsunami," Mr Anderson said.
"When the Tobruk docked in Samoa, it delivered 200 tonnes of essential equipment and supplies. The shipment included a new fire truck for Samoa Fire and Emergency Services to replace the one destroyed when responding to the tsunami, as well as donated goods and relief aid for the Red Cross, Caritas and Samoa's Disaster Management Office. While much of this emergency assistance will be distributed to people and communities affected by the tsunami, some of it will also be used to restock disaster stores as we head in to the cyclone season. Five generators were also delivered."
Australian people power has also made a big difference.
More than 75 sailors from Tobruk spent the day helping local communities, environmental NGOs and the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with their clean-up and rebuilding activities. Clean-up teams headed to Lalomanu beach, one of the worst affected areas, with two light amphibious resupply cargo vehicles (LARCs), capable of being used on land and in the water to lift heavy metal and debris from the reef and beach. By the end of the day, more than five tonnes of debris was picked up.
"Because of the weight of the rubbish in the water, it could only be removed with navy's heavy lifting equipment and man power. The removal of debris off the reef has helped save the reef and coral, giving it a chance to regenerate," said local clean-up volunteer and marine biologist, Sue Taei.
While the reef clean-up was in full swing, two navy work teams headed to the local preschools to refurbish classrooms damaged by the tsunami. The Tobruk's doctor, Lieutenant Commander Sue Sharpe, also spent the day at Lalomanu hospital treating more than 40 patients. Medical equipment and supplies from the ship were donated to the hospital.
Staff and students from the AusAID funded Australian Pacific Technical College (APTC) are also helping people and communities affected by the tragedy. In the week after the tsunami, the APTC's training restaurant provided hot lunches for more than 300 staff, patients and families at the local hospital, and offered APTC vehicles to the Red Cross to transport essential supplies to the affected areas.
Many APTC families have been helping the Samoa Victims Support Group (SVSG), which is currently housing more than 11 families who lost their homes during the tsunami. A fundraising dinner at the APTC's training restaurant for these displaced families was further boosted when the APTC donated all of the dinner proceeds to the SVSG. The funds will be used to buy books, stationary and educational items for the children being cared for by the SVSG.
The drive along Upolu's south coast is still a heart wrenching journey. The former postcard-perfect coast is scarred from the devastating tsunami on 29 September 2009 which destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 143 people. But there are clear signs that Samoa and Samoans are getting on with the job of rebuilding.
"The Samoan Government is already spreading the message that Samoa remains open for business, encouraging people to visit, telling them that they would be welcomed with open arms and broad smiles. People visit Samoa for the breathtaking scenery and the warmth of its people - these two essential ingredients remain."
"Obviously, Samoa's rebuilding journey will be long, but the spirit and will is strong. As a friend and neighbour, Australia stands ready to help with the rebuilding," Mr Anderson said.