Thursday, October 1, 2009

LDS Missionary Elliott Miller Relates Harrowing Escape From Tsunami In Samoa; Two Sister Missionaries In Tonga Still Missing

The 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit Malaela, Samoa while Elliot Miller, a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was in the shower. At the time, he didn't think he was in danger. But only six minutes later, a wall of water would rush through the beachside village, sweeping away homes and people. Full story published by KTVA Channel 11 in Anchorage, Alaska; gallery of 34 photos of the disaster available on KSL Channel 5.

The overall death toll from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Samoa and nearby Tonga on Wednesday September 30th has now reached 160, according to this current KSL Channel 5 report. Dozens more are expected. At least 31 of the victims were from American Samoa. Miller, an LDS missionary from Brentwood, Tennessee, had only arrived in Samoa a month earlier, starting a two-year stint on the islands. After the ground stopped shaking, he heard shouts from outside urging him to get to high ground.

Throwing on shorts and his white missionary shirt, Miller ran from the cinderblock house to find other villagers running for the forest for lack of higher ground. Miller ran for the trees too, picking up two scared kids along the way. They scrambled up the trunk and watched the water rise around them. Miller prayed and worried that the tree would snap under the water's pressure. Finally, the seas receded. When villagers dared to return to the beach later in the day, they found that their homes had been taken by the waves. In the distance, Miller saw people collecting bodies. He has since been transferred to a missionary house in Apia, Samoa. The LDS Newsroom now reports that 26 of the dead are Latter-day Saints; 22 in Samoa and four in American Samoa. All missionaries assigned to the three locations have been accounted for except for two sister missionaries from the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission serving on the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu, which borders Samoa. Efforts to communicate with people on the island have still not been successful. Update October 2nd: The two sister missionaries have now been confirmed to be safe and are assisting in caring for refugees in their area.

Another report indicates that the Apia Samoa Temple suffered no structural damage following the quake and subsequent tsunami — although the horn from the Angel Moroni statue atop the temple somehow snapped off and fell to the ground. Two chapels on Samoa's main island of Upolu reportedly suffered severe water damage. Flood waters also inundated the lower level of the Fa'aala stake center on the neighboring island of Savaii.

Rescue efforts are beginning. The United States, Australia and New Zealand sent in supplies and troops, including a U.S. Navy frigate carrying two helicopters that will be used in search-and-rescue efforts. The Hawaii Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force flew three cargo planes to American Samoa that carried 100 Navy and Army guard personnel and reservists. Doctors and nurses were sent to devastated villages, and a refrigerated freight container was being used as a temporary morgue for the scores of bodies showing up at a Samoan hospital. About 200 people camped inside the Mormon church in Leone, one of the hardest hit villages in American Samoa.

KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of

The Pacific Area Presidency of the LDS Church has said that the Church is actively involved in providing assistance to those in need. Three truckloads of clothing and a further three truckloads of food were shipped from Church members in Apia to villages on the southern side of Upolu, the main island of Samoa. Consistent with Church humanitarian policy, the aid is given irrespective of the religious affiliation of the recipient.

John Larsen, the Church’s Welfare Department coordinator in Auckland, reports that local Church officials are members of the Samoan Government National Disaster Council and are determining what aid will be provided from the Church’s local and international resources. Church officials also are in contact with government leaders in American Samoa and Tonga. Additionally, the Church is working with the Red Cross to coordinate the delivery of assistance. Typically, the Church sends shipments of medical equipment and supplies, clothing, food and other materials in times of disaster and has done so during previous Pacific calamities.

As well as donating humanitarian provisions, congregations of Church members are already providing manpower assistance under the direction of Elder Douglas Jessop, an Area Seventy and senior religious leader in Samoa and American Samoa. The Church’s “Mormon Helping Hands” service program will be mobilized in coming days to assist with the massive cleanup operation.

Overseas Latter-day Saints who wish to contribute to humanitarian efforts may do so by including donations on the regular Church donation slip under the section entitled “Humanitarian aid”. Large donations from Church members and the public also may be made via the Church website, LDS Philanthropies, by following the “Donate Online” instructions at the bottom of the page.

No comments: