No, No, No Cyclone Evan!

Cyclone Evan struck Samoa last week, twice in fact, once from the South West, which did most of the damage and then again from the East, which really just rubbed it in. Looking around now with not a tree in sight (except for coconuts), I guess you could say that Samoa has just had a haircut – short back and sides.

Camp Samoa now has no water, no power, no phone, no Internet, no WWOOFers, no trees, no mosquitoes or flies and no privacy. We can now see the neighbours on all four sides, and can stand in the kitchen and see the lights of Apia, and great sea views!

It’s Monday morning and I’m actually OK. The adrenalin has now worn off and the big cleanup begins. I spent the first day holed up in the container, which stayed solid. The next day I spent 5 hours behind a chainsaw and machete clearing the road from fallen trees. The next day I trimmed all the broken bananas so they would shoot up again (they already have shot up 12″ in two days), and got the roofing iron back up.

The PM visited to check how things were going for us – nice of him to pop in, except that our meeting was actually planned for January and with a nice clean section, not the devastation that he ended up seeing! Last time he popped in he commented on our tomato patch. This time he commented on our taro patch. Just what an Internet and marketing dude wants to hear – I’m apparently a great farmer!

Both the limo and the Prado are fine. The limo copped a couple of coconuts on the driver’s door but I saved the food, books, piano and anything I could load into the container. Everything else is totally sodden. Fefe, the dog had four pups but one didn’t make it, so she’s been feeding up her three blind pups.

I had taken down the marquee so it’s safe. I’ve retrieved all the roofing from the neighbour’s property and slipped it back onto the remaining structures. The three roofs went flying of course but all the four structures survived totally unscathed – Clochmerle, the Plantation Hut and the Lean-to. Fortunately the 40foot container took the brunt of the winds but all the furniture is soaking and will take a week to dry out. The Fale Samoa stood strong. A good solid concrete base and strong posts kept it up no worries! The thatched roofing took the winds fine, but the polasisi blinds are no more! Beds and furniture are all ruined. The steel capping must have nearly decapitated the neighbour’s cows!

Power has been restored to most of Apia central and there is one Internet Café operating from which I have grabbed a quick chance to scribble this update down – a miracle!

I estimate several weeks before power and/or phone is restored to Camp Samoa, so it’s likely to be ANOTHER Christmas without power for me! EPC the power company clearly has a major job rebuilding the network. Power lines are down all over the place mainly from fallen trees, including our street where the trees that they installed the new lines under (yes, under!) fell on them – of course! If you ask me, EPC has some real lazy Samoans who didn’t give a sh*t, and hate you for causing them trouble! One day they’ll no doubt replace the lines and we’ll be back in business! One day!

We lost about 100 bananas but saved the same again and they will grow again OK. All the coconuts are still standing and every Kamaligi tree in the country has either been flattened or snapped in half. Yay! Who said there isn’t a God? Kamaligis are simply evil and are just a noxious weed. I was on the roof loading a few last minute weights onto the steel when the first strong winds came. It was amazing them watching them go, one by one, snap, crack, snap, crash and that was in the first two or three minutes!

The strong winds didn’t seem to be too much of a problem except for the gusts, they seemed to do the damage. When there is a wind only just strong enough to stand up in, you can brace yourself, but then when the big gusts come, that seems to cause the damage. People, trees and structures all seem the same, so a piece of roofing iron with a weight on it can stay down in strong winds, then just lift off like a kite in the gust.

And the dumbest sight of the cyclone was? Nothing beats walking into the toilet and seeing a coconut in the bowl! Yup, a blumin coconut had landed right in the toilet cistern – you gotta laugh sometimes.

Brickbats and Bouquets . . .

The biggest bouquet has to be the PM. Top marks for getting out and about. He knew we were exposed with a simple leanto on the container and bothered to pop in on his travels. A good leader. Well done!

The biggest brickbat has to be EPC. They’ve got their work cut out for them and I feel sorry for them BUT they brought a lot of it on themselves. I know their attitude to trees and clearance very very well, from personal experience. I lost count of the number of trees I saw that had pulled down power poles and lines – it will be many hundreds if not a thousand or more throughout Samoa! I would estimate that well over half the damage would have been preventable. Shame on EPC. Shame.

Top marks also to Origin the gas company selling LPG bottles by the dozens when the people needed it but a major brickbat to BOC who, at midday on Saturday turned away people at the gate “Sorry, no staff and no change!” In the height of an emergency a large company BOC dropped the ball! Simply no excuse BOC!

Lessons learned:

1. Cut the bananas down sooner. I lost more than I should have by not acting sooner.
2. Matches simply don’t work in a cyclone, even the spare set I kept in the car. You need waterproof matches or cigarette lighters.
3. Murphy is a genius. If it could go wrong it did – I put the extra valuable valuables in the car, including the spare set of keys. Somehow the storm locked the car on me – yes, locked out of the car with both sets of keys inside! Lightening may have triggered the central locking, maybe? Then a flat battery because it wasn’t run for a few days! Then the gas bottle WILL definitely run out in the middle of the storm!
4. There’s no sense stocking up on frozen food if there’s no power! Dogs got a big feed of expensive fish and melted ice cream (all you can eat).
5. My family made no call inside 5 days. Hmmm. It would have been nice to have received a call but hey some families are like that eh? I couldn’t make outbound calls because Digicel got wiped out and I couldn’t top it up! Darn! [UPDATE Monday: Just after posting this I got a call from family saying that they’ve been phoning me for days. All’s forgiven family. Nice to know you all care . . . Blogging:1, SamoaTel:0, Digicel:0] [UPDATE Tuesday: Five days after the storm and Digicel have sent me free credits to call out of the country. Thanks Digicel. Shame on the loss of service in a crisis though!]
6. Rubber tyres work well holding down a roof. Timber doesn’t. Best to nail your rooking iron down really!
7. Despite the camaraderie that is often spoken of in times of adversity, it’s basically every man (family) for himself in survival mode in Samoa. Families look after their own here. I helped a few and got out and about but apart from the PM, everybody was/is busy doing their own thing.
8. Coconuts are king. Bent almost 90 degrees cyclone after cyclone and still standing and producing 100 years later. A very class act!
9. Paper, cardboard boxes, chipboard and MDF don’t work in Samoa, period. Don’t even think about it!
10. Greenies really just have to go home. Fighting to save the trees, only to see them get ripped apart every decade or so makes no sense unless you’re just religious on the matter. It’s far better to see them milled and used for construction than to borrow offshore funds, and then buy Pinus Radiata from the big corporations in New Zealand. Good for New Zealand and big business. Bad for Samoa.
11. Stress could be a hidden killer. I noticed after a few hours that my adrenalin was up (of course) and I had to deliberately look after myself, slowing down, eating, drinking and resting.
12. It’s very smart to have a cellphone that charges from a car battery – we learned that well when we lived without power before!
13. No matter the damage, there’s always someone worse off than you.

Contact with me is only by inbound phone calls +685 777-9999. I expect to clear emails perhaps only once a week if that, while reconstruction is under way.

While I have food in the cupboard as well as on the plantation, I will be doing “improvements” to the roofs this Christmas. This would be a very good time for people who owe me money or who intend to make Christmas presents to visit their local branch of Western Union!

Thanks, and if I don’t catch up with you before the New Year, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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  1. We have phoned you on numerous occasions, on ALL phone numbers, but to no avail!!!! Only ones that even rang through were probably inside your locked car, 8444888 and 8444777.

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