|Tsunami destruction on the island of American Samoa.|
An 8.0 magnitude underwater earthquake early Tuesday morning, Sept. 29, triggered a tsunami that has left at least 119 dead and hundreds homeless on the South Pacific islands of American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga.
The epicenter of the earthquake was located 120 miles southwest of the islands. Within 15 minutes of the quake three tsunami waves, reported to be nearly 20 feet high, hit the islands along the densely populated coast.
Speaking via cell phone from Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, the Rev. Samuel T. Tialavea Sr., General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa, told UCNews that half the island is still without power and damage to roads had also made getting fresh water to remote areas difficult.
Tialavea described the grim situation at hospitals where morgue facilities have installed large temporary refrigeration units to accommodate the overflow. In parts of the island hardest hit, family grave sites were dug up by the force of the water - leaving bodies and remains exposed or swept up to roadsides.
Despite these horrors, the destruction of hundreds of homes, widespread displacement and the anxiousness of continued searching - Tialavea praised his churches for their responsiveness.
"Our churches are being used as shelters for those who've lost their homes," said Tialavea. "People have been spending the night in the churches and returning to their villages during the day to do recovery work."
In addition to providing basic needs, Tialavea is coordinating a national prayer service with other church bodies on the island.
When asked what faith partners can do for the people of American Samoa and Samoa, Tialavea answered, "pray."
"I've received numerous messages from our UCC leadership - not only in Cleveland but throughout the United States," he said. "We're greatly appreciative of the UCC and our other ecumenical partners who have expressed the same concern and commitment to keep us in prayer."
Executive Minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, expressed her sympathy for the loss and encouragement for those involved in the response to the tsunami. "We have strong partnerships with the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa," she said. "Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered loss and those who must now find ways to rebuild their lives - even in the midst of their grief."
Jaramillo also praised the UCC's disaster response to several Pacific events this week and their appeal for financial assistance which will support partners in American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. "The generosity of UCC members toward our historic mission partners is greatly appreciated," she said.
"With this weekend's scheduled Neighbors in Need offering we are aware that response to this disaster is an additional 'ask'," said Jaramillo. "I pray it will be and occasion for each of us to explore the depth of our generosity and compassion, and thanks for what we have been given."