Sad memories are the ones you want to forget. Quickly.
But seven years since lives in this country were changed forever by a devastating tsunami, the memories remain fresh.
The emotions are raw, the pain is real and while we’ve made some progress in our efforts to move on, there are reminders everywhere we look. The scars have not healed and as much as we want to completely move on, we remain in a state of mourning.
For how can we forget? How can we erase such pain? How can such sorrow ever be easily forgotten? The memories are as if it happened yesterday.
On that fateful morning in 2009, thousands of people on the south coast of Upolu rose from their beds with dreams and visions of better days ahead.
The working population was getting ready for their daily routine, students were preparing for school while tourists were enjoying the paradise they travelled thousands of miles to see. It was like any other morning in beautiful Samoa. It was warm, tranquil and had all the makings of another day in paradise.
But then without warning and out of nowhere, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8.3 struck near Samoa. It shook an entire nation for what felt like an eternity. Never before did we experience an earthquake so powerful and so frightening we thought it would never stop.
From Upolu to Savaii, Manono and Apolima, we all felt it. Our Pacific neighbours – including our brothers and sisters in American Samoa – were not spared. But that was just the beginning of it.
Just when we thought it was over, along came deadly waves that swept across the South Pacific. It killed indiscriminately in three countries. Lives were lost in Tonga, American Samoa and Samoa.
Entire communities were swept away and thousands of people were left in the tsunami’s wake without homes, jobs, food, or medical care.
Worst hit was the south coast of Upolu, which was once the iconic image of Samoan tourism. Claiming the lives of 143 people from Aleipata to Falealili, the day remains one of the darkest moments in the history of this country.
Seven years later, we have not forgotten the profound impact it has had on this country. Yesterday, we remembered the devastation. We remembered the sense of hopelessness. We remembered the smell, feeling and the sight of death and destruction.
I paused for a moment to pay tribute to the victims. As one of the first people to arrive at the scene, I recall Aleipata resembling a war zone. The sight of so many dead people being pulled from the water will always stay with me. There were parents hugging their children, some alive, others were not. At the Lalomanu hospital, dead bodies were everywhere. And they kept piling up.
The memories are graphic and the pictures are still there.
They will stay there forever.
Thinking about it yesterday was still painful. I remember picking up the body of a dead baby in front of Taufua Beach Fales. I remember crying and looking at him, he could have been my daughter. I remember parents hugging their children, one dead, another badly injured.
While we’d like to think that we have moved on, we can never quite do that. For how can we?
29 September 2009 was a day of sorrow. And while we remember the devastation, we also recall the acts of courage and kindness as strangers and our partner nations rallied to help those in need and provide urgent relief.
It was a day when the goodness in the hearts of people of this country was demonstrated. Total strangers turned up to help. They offered water, food, clothes and money. They were there to counsel, help and give their time in whatever way. It was an amazing effort. Those are the beautiful memories that will comfort the spirit in such sad times.
Today, we should pause to remember the victims of the tragedy.
We pay tribute to their lives and we acknowledge everyone who helped in this country’s hour of need.
We cannot name everyone but our good God knows everything and he will bless you accordingly. Seven years after the tsunami, we join our people around the world in the spirit of unity, remembrance and resolve.
May the Almighty God comfort all those affected by the tsunami and give them strength.
And may we never forget the lesson that was so obviously clear this time seven years ago, life is too precious.
We must enjoy it for we never know what might be lurking around the corner.
So hug your loved ones, kiss your children when you leave them, tell your family you love them. Forgive someone, share your blessings and rejoice while we have the opportunity.
Have a great Friday Samoa, God bless!