Monday, March 1, 2010

"The Perils of Paradise"

... January and February Bring a Tropical Depression, A Hurricane and a small Tsunami

It began in January when Tropical Depression Nisha paid the island of Ta’u a visit. Because her winds were “only” in the 60 mph range, she measured out to be a Tropical Depression. But, her presence did do a lot of damage, taking down small trees and raising the surf levels so high it washed out our only roadway, the waves rising just 50 feet from our front doors. We thought we had weathered the worst of it, until just two weeks later, Hurricane Rene made a special V-line for AmSam. This time with wind gusts up to 90 mph, large trees were demolished, high surf levels flooded the road with coral again and some roofs in Fitiuta were lost. KC and I spent the long 24 hour ordeal hiding out in her fale (house). During the worst of it around 2 am, we locked ourselves in her bathroom (the only room in the house with a cement roof and walls) and read Harry Potter, while attempting not to listen to the howling wind that was slamming large, unknown objects against our house. We were lucky and the storm only registered as a small category 2 hurricane- by the time it reached Tonga, it’s winds had increased to 150 mph! I’m hoping that’s all the hurricane action we get here- it was certainly enough for me. The season goes clear through March, though, so there are no promises. And considering I’m apparently a magnet- my natural disaster magic eightball would probably say “outlook not so good.”

Finally, just yesterday (on my Aunt B’s birthday!), an 8.8 earthquake and at least another dozen large aftershocks in Chile generated a small tsunami that did minor damage throughout the South Pacific. Thanks to my awesome Aunt, I had a NOAA weather radio that woke me and KC up in the middle of the night to a blaring warning that said we needed to evacuate for a tsunami. KC and I woke Kaitie up and made calls to the rest of the Manu’a volunteers. We roused Aso’s family awake and went to alert the town Mayor. We then, perhaps brazenly, took it upon ourselves to ring the town bell for an emergency evacuation. It was 1 am, and because of our radio and my team of expert meteorologists I was able to contact via cell phone (aka my parents and Aunt B who summoned the powers of the internet back in the US), we were some of the few in town that knew what was going on. Luckily, everyone made it safely and calmly up the hill within the hour. We spent the next twelve hours at the high school, waiting out the residual effects. Our island was safe from any waves generated, but Pago Pago harbor on the main island did get a fairly mild, 2 foot surge. Easter Island and Tahiti were hit much worse than Tutuila was, but after the earthquake and tsunami here in October, we considered everyone very lucky- it could have been much worse for the South Pacific. My thoughts are with everyone in South America and the Pacific right now affected by the natural disaster- it takes a certain kind of person to live in the Ring of Fire- I guess I’m earning my street cred here for sure.

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