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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Samoan Family Survives Sudden River Flooding
Magiagi family advised to stay away till rain subsides

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 31, 2013) – Kapeneta Purcell and her sons are counting their blessings after being saved from being swept away by heavy flooding at Magiagi this morning in Samoa.

Purcell and two of her eight children, her brother and two young men returned for the first time to their home at a low-lying residential area called Ueligitone, to redevelop their family after Cyclone Evan devastated it. Concentrating on erecting posts for a house, they did not realize that the river that runs through the land was building up fast after heavy rain this week. Realizing the danger they were in, they tried to escape but was too late. They were trapped between the water and debris.

Fortunately for them, people were watching from the top of the hill of Magiagi and amongst them was Olo Saniko, who witnessed the wrath of the river last month.

"I knew the family will not stand the strong current and so I acted quickly," he told Talamua. With the assistance of a few young men, he tied a rope around his waist before he was lowered down to the river bank.

"I saw them trying to swim towards the bushes at the bottom of the hill to where I was being lowered to," said Olo.

One by one, he guided them to the rope and were pulled to safety by the other rescuers.

"No one should try to test his human strength against this river," Olo said.

By the time the police arrived, the five survivors were already safe on high ground. The police had advised them not to return to the area until the strong winds and heavy rain warning are cancelled. Tafilipepe Fineaso, one of the matai of Magiagi village, said it will be a while before the river subsides.

One of the rescued, Felise Asiata told Talamua that they have been working for at least an hour before the river came rushing in.

"I yelled to the others and started running, looking for a higher spot," he said. He credited Olo and his team for their lives.

Kapeneta Purcell who is originally from Safotu, Savai’i said she thought it was safe to return to rebuild after the Baha’i Church offered them assistance in rebuilding their home.

"I know now we won’t be safe here again," said Purcell.

Ueligitone was one of the worst hit areas in last months flooding. The four victims of the flooding were all from low lying area on the riverbank.

The Prime Minister has issued several warnings telling families to relocate as the floods that came with Cyclone Evan was a warning which everyone should heed and that what has happened will happen again.

However, there are families who wish to return and start redeveloping like the Purcells. Their decision has been criticized by the village as stupid.

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