APIA, Samoa — Missionaries and LDS Church members and leaders are rallying to respond to the needs of Samoans whose lives have been uprooted by Cyclone Evan, one of the most powerful and destructive storms to hit Samoa and American Samoa in decades.
That’s the report of Elder F. Michael Watson of the church’s First Quorum of the Seventy and a member of the Pacific Area Presidency. Elder Watson and his wife, Jolene, toured Samoa last week to, in his words, “find out what is happening here.”
The devastation from the storm is “worse than I expected,” Elder Watson said. But he also indicated that he is “greatly encouraged” by the faith and spirit of church members and missionaries who are responding to the crisis.
LDS Church leaders in Samoa made a quick and thorough assessment of the needs in the area following the mid-December cyclone, which allowed church Welfare Department officials to respond quickly with the water, food and materials that were needed, Elder Watson said.
In the Magiagi area of Apia, the LDS meetinghouse is providing shelter for some 300 people displaced by the storm, two-thirds of whom are not members of the LDS Church. Another LDS meetinghouse, the home of the Safaatoa Ward, received extensive damage in the storm, while the church’s Apia Samoa Temple received minor water damage through a broken window seal. A number of trees on the temple grounds and at other church facilities were uprooted or lost branches during the cyclone.
Elder Watson reported that the church’s full-time missionaries assigned to the area, including 14 who had just arrived in Samoa, were all safe and working hard to help those who were impacted severely by the storm.
“These marvelous young people are giving of themselves out of love for God and their fellow men,” Elder Watson said. “They are helping families cut up tree trunks and limbs; they are removing branches, mud and other debris blown down by the high winds or washed down by the flooding river.”
The efforts of the missionaries, as well as other church members in Samoa, “have not gone unnoticed by government authorities and the people of Samoa,” Elder Watson said.
With all of the power lines down and the extensive damage to homes and other buildings, recovery efforts may continue for a long time. Elder Watson also noted the destruction of most of Samoa’s agricultural crops, which “means that food supply will be short-lived and replanting will take time, with the harvest perhaps a year away.”
Church officials have indicated they will provide as much assistance as they can through the recovery process. Speaking to church groups in several different parts of Samoa, Elder Watson offered the assurance that “God knows your circumstances and your faith.”