Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joey's Story

Hi all,

Right now I'm just really grateful to be alive and still in possession of a function home and car, something a lot of people don't have any more. Like I said on my Facebook status, yesterday was a day where I woke up to an earthquake and went to bed with my world rocked.

Since then I've been doing interviews and uploading pictures and video to so many news sources, from CNN International to Australia's Seven Network. As you know, it takes me a while to write out major blog entries, as I like to cram in as much detail as I can. So until then, I present to you the tale of Joey, my boss, which is a lot better than mine anyhow. After all those media requests, he finally just typed out a long email to send to all of them. Below is that, unedited.


Very dreamlike.
John Raynar called in sick this morning and I am so glad he did because I would have been on the road to work when it hit. I was sitting in for him on the morning radio show on 93KHJ when the earthquake hit about 7:50am. It lasted several minutes. we immediately sent out an EAS earthquake warning to tell everyone to stay away from possible landslide areas. we were in quick contact with the EOC and other emergency personnel to find out about a tsunami that might be coming. They advised that no tsunami was reported but to direct everyone to go to higher ground or to the second story of a building. We also asked school to initiate their tsunami plans to get kids up the mountains. We sent a tsunami warning EAS message 10 minutes later as we saw the first rising water. We stayed on the air as the water reached three or four feet in the parking lot. Our building Pago Plaza is located deep in the belly of Pago harbor close to seal level. The water stayed at that level for many minutes until it surged fantastically to around 15 feet. Tree, cars, buses, boats all rushed by in a river of mud just outside my window. I actually saw that my own car... a VW new Beetle was surprisingly boyant when floating on ut's roof. We continued broadcasting for people to move to high ground. for the next 5 to ten minutes until the batteries on our back up power system died. There was lots of panic by the office staff and it was struggle to keep everyone calm while i was still on the air. When we went off the air and I grabbed a video camera to try to capture some of the action. The first thing I caught was the second wave and me and Lupe praying. I'll post video later. All of the staff at the station went outside to the second floor balcony to see what was happening the air was filled with screams. The whole downstairs was completely washed out. The devastation was complete. Tables, windows, jewelry, trophies, dvds and bottles water lay strewn across the murky floor. The villagers immediately started looking for trapped survivors. I dedicated myself and my staff to helping those that were hurt and gathering food and water. I put out a call on the handheld EAS network walkit-talkie asking for a generator at my location then hooked up with two guys from the government to survey the damage in the area and look for gas leaks and live power lines. Debris was everywhere. Broken furniture mixed with old tires and trees. Children's clothing and road signs crushed under telephone poles. All under a thick layer of much that smelled like chemicals and deisel. Two more lesser waves came but they were equally scary. We screamed for people to run up the mountain but they just ran down the street away from the wave rather than make a sharp left and up the steep mountain just feet away. We walked down the road only to find that people that weren't trying to help had already begun looting the stores. Teenagers roamed the area with spray paint tagging buildings and overturned cars with meaningless scribble. We set up a security perimieter around our building and confirmed with plaza security that noone was trapped inside. Large fishing boats were washed up on land. The cars were washed into the harbor. I found my own car about 300 yards down the road upside down in the middle of a tennis court. I got a generator from a friend and got one of our FM's back on the air about 3 hours later. John and Adam our TV guy showed during this time and helped get things situated, We performed our broadcast on low power over the next 5 hours just spreading information. Keep the roads clear. Beware of falling debris that may have shifted during the earthquake. Dissuade the looting. Body counts kept piling up. News from other islands was very sporadic. The cell phone networks were only working intermittently. Details were they say. And talk about sketchy. By the time I finished my second or third patrol of the area, I was wigged out. I watched a slew of Taiwanese fisherman trying to get off a 100 ft. tuna boat that was leaning against the sea wall. School buses full of kids that were bring shipped back home were smiling and waving at all the excitement. Behind them were pick up trucks with two bodies in each of their beds covered up by lavalavas. Their feet were hanging out over the tailgate and I remember noticing that there was no mud on their feet. Everything is so nasty here. The other FM stations on the island were also on top of the situation so around 5:30pm, I signed off and sent everyone home with John and I caught a ride from some friends Rocco, Debra and Robert from the local Christian station KULA-LP who came to check things out and bring us water & food. As we drove through the area I saw more and more horrible things. The photos attached are from Rocco's camera and some are from my camera phone. The place has changed. Where i buy my morning snacks is a concrete slab and Marge Crispin, the lady who makes the most delicious meatpies, is no badly injured at the hospital. The new day spa that my girlfriend Moana works at is no tiliting precariously on it's foundation. The Korean store is gutted. The store where I get my lambflaps for lunch has a truck in it. The Sacred Heart aiga bus has a telephone pole skewering it like some sort of crazy shishkabob.Gas storage tanks at the fuel stations were carried off and leaking. Water mains are probably still gushing. The power generation plant near the canneries was badly hit but back up portable units were on the way in on big 18 wheelers. As we got further out of the belly of the harbor the damage was less and less noticeable. The radio station was ground zero for the worst natural disaster in recorded American Samoa history.
After grabbing some food, I took shower at my apartment and have been checking email and trying to spread as much info as possible on what happened. I've received calls and email from the USA, Canada, France, England, Australia and I think I'll be on TV on the network morning show in a few hours. I can't keep up with who I've talked to. The phone has rang every three minutes fot the past 3 hours..... I've been writing this email for two. It should have taken 15 minutes.
Video will be put here when finished uploading:
It's only half finished uploading currently.
Joey Cummings
General Manager
V103 (WVUV-FM)
Island Info Channel 13
Island Music Channel 10

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Helen's Story

From: HELEN <he******>
Date: Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 1:25 AM
Subject: hello
To: Art Leonard <artl*********>

Travelled around the two biggest independent islands, Upolu & Savii which are both less than 200 kms in circumference. Spent time in Apia, the capital looking at the food & flea markets and generally walking around the streets. Five km’s out of Apia is where Robert Louis Stevenson’s lived and died in an old large wooden residence with a lovely large garden & grounds. It has now been turned into a museum. Robert lived his last 4 and half years in Samoa as the climate was kinder to his medical problem. Walked 45 minutes along a steep path up a hill to his grave site and was rewarded with great views over Apia. Travelled by local bus to a few beaches on the southern coast & spent time walking, reading and doing a bit of snorkelling. Rained some of the time and the middle of the day was usually uncomfortably humid/hot even though it is the coolest time of the year in Samoa. Took a ferry across to Savvi the other island and stayed in a place called Manase at Janes Beach Fales. Did a day tour, approx 180 km’s around the islands and saw most of the main attractions. First stop was a large Babylon tree which you could climb up stairs which lead to a Canopy walkway which on the day we went they decided that we couldn’t walk across it which was disappointing, apparently some days they let you & some days they don’t. Second stop was Alofaaga blowholes where they put coconuts in one of the blow holes & the coconuts shoot up into the air. The ocean around this area are very rough. Third stop was a nice waterfall with a pool below which we went swimming in. Fourth stop was the lava fields which were formed in approx 1911 with the eruption of Mount Matavanuthen, saw a Church which the lava came right through & a crater which is now covered with grass. Fifth & last stop was swimming with the turtles in a turtle enclosure. With a bit of Papaya in your hand they would come up to you and take it out of you hand which was neat.

The rest of the time on the island was spent walking & reading, a little bit of snorkelling. The weather wasn’t the best for swimming as it rained some days, was windy some days plus it wasn’t pleasant when the tide was out.

Samoa is one of the least visited Pacific Islands and the cheapest to visit. We paid around $35 for a Fale which included communal breakfast & tea. Samoa is relatively cheap but it is 3rd world and more expensive than South East Asia but not complaining as I spent less than $800 for the 2 weeks. Western goods are very expensive as they import most things, same as Vanuatu. Approx 80% of the tourists are from New Zealand. There were some religious singing groups visiting, seems the ideal place.

My holiday in Somoa was tragic as on the third day we were there Ruth drowned when we were snorkelling as we got caught in a channel at Lalomanu beach. There was a sign on the beach which warned of strong currents when the tide is high or going out but not of channels. I found out later that where we were there were 3 channels all going out the same place in a gap of the corral reef. We swam for about 10-15 minutes then hit the channel, Ruth was taken out a few feet, swam to her & from then on Ruth panicked and held onto me. For approx one & a half hours I tried to swim with Ruth holding onto me but I would swim forward with the current then we would be brought right back again, I could only hold ground, not gain any distance. I didn’t know what we were in and kept looking for a way out but the waves seemed to come from either side & all around. Ruth kept saying she was sorry and I kept trying to persuade her to swim, she also kept asking me if we were closer & I would say yes to try and give her confidence. After 30 minutes or so it was dark so even if there were people walking along the beach they would not have seen us. We weren’t getting anywhere & I was tiring so I decided my only option was to try & swim to shore by myself & get help. I had no idea that it would take me over an hour to reach the shore, we were inside the corral reef and not that far out but it was going from high tide to the tide receding, which is the worst time. It was a nightmare swimming, constantly swimming towards shore, getting taken out again, getting dumped, even trying to float for some respite but then a wave would go over my face. I ended up getting really determined as I knew I couldn’t keep this up for a lot longer and one time when the current started to take me out yet again I saw a rock about a foot high and wedged my leg against it and then when the current came in again I swam quickly to gain some ground. When I got closer to shore I held on to the coral on the bottom of the ocean when the tide was going out, sometimes the coral would break & sometimes it held but slowly I inched my way to shore bit by bit. Ended up getting to shore after 8 pm, I was pretty exhausted. Went for help, they sent out 2 kayaks first then I went out with a fishing boat from the next village with the locals to no avail. After 2 days Ruth’s body came to the surface, her hair had been caught on the corral until then. The locals and some of the tourists were very kind and I felt really bad as they made a fuss over me and telling me how strong and brave I was. They told me how lucky I was to get out of the channel & I think it was the fact that I swim regularly & I am strong minded & very determined. The fisherman that recovered the body had air tanks & they said that they had to go on the bottom of the ocean & pull themselves along to get out of the current. Four people have died in the channel in the last few years but they still won’t put up danger signs where the channel is or put buoys in the water and say don’t go past this point. I suggested it to the police, owners & different people. The owners said they told us of the dangers but they didn’t nor did they tell other people as I asked different people. I had to identify the body at the hospital chapel, the face was hardly recognisable. Spent some days walking around in disbelief, trying to rationalise the situation, thinking of all the ‘if only’. Ruth only has a brother (and a sister whom she dis-owns) and other than her brother I will miss her the most as I am the one that did everything with her, going to the pub, camping on long weekends, holidays etc. The Australian Consulate in Samoa took care of the arrangements of transporting Ruth’s body to Australia. Took awhile and the funeral was nearly 3 weeks after her drowning.

The day after the drowning Ancilla an English South African girl who is living in Auckland as a primary school teacher came to my room and asked if I needed a friend, we had met her the first night we arrived in Apia as she stayed in the same place as us. I wasn’t sure if I would go back home or not but I ended up deciding that whether I was in Australia or Samoa I still had to get my head together & try and cope. With Ancilla’s friendship and support we travelled together for the rest of my holidays. Ancilla viewed the body with me and was a good person to talk to and she kept reassuring me, I was luck to meet her.

When I got back to Australia I got bacteraemia (bacteria in the blood, not normally dangerous) from the corral cuts I got on my legs on the day of Ruth’s drowning. I thought I was nauseas from the plane but it went on for a few days plus getting shivers and fever. I was feeling a lot better 3 days later but one of the cuts was oozing so went to the doctor and had to take antibiotics even though the doctor thought my body had got over it.

All I can say is that we never know when our time is up so we need to make the most of every day of our lives.

Bye for now,



We met Helen on the tour of Vailima, Robert Louis Stevenson's place, and she joined us on our hike up to his grave on the top of the mountain. Along the way, we learned her story and were moved by it. This was the day after her South African friend left and the day before she was scheduled to leave, so it was good that we were there to give her someone to talk to. Back to posting pictures and such next time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



No, not the Klondike Bar commercial, the thing after that.

(Actually, I'm not even sure if that link works anymore, because it gave me an error two of the three times that I tried to watch it).

And, because people keep asking, no, I was not involved in any way with that show's production. Though I really wish I was.

Also, there is no way that one show with the host standing in front of the giant wave is real. Oh, awesomely dramatic waves like that happen here all the time, but it would carry him away if he were really standing there.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Touring the Vampire's House

As you may recall, we were about to take the tour of the home of some fellow name Robert Louis Stevenson.

Have the tour guide show us how Robert Louis Stevenson was straight up gangsta.

Lots of guns and liquor. He may also have been a cowboy.

Or perhaps some sort of model. Or maybe Buddha's right-hand man.

In this one, he looks like he could have been a vampire. One who collected pointed sticks, perhaps to keep them away from those who wanted to drive them through his heart.

Even in the days of the gangsta-cowboy-model-Buddhist-vampire-werewolf, white people living in the Samoas had to have lots of things shipped to them in order to get by.

A really big front yard. Possibly to allow plenty of space for spotting random people at night before swooping down on them and biting their necks.

Mr. Stevenson, while trying to frighten a small boy, tragically discovered that the new look he has been modeling doesn't work as well as the traditional vampire cape. Or maybe he's teaching his stepson history, like the caption says.

Oh yeah, definitely a vampire. And possibly a model, going by the pose on that statue.

All that shiny silverware and he could never see his reflection in it. What a waste. What a waste.

This? Oh this is just a sculpture on Robert Louis Stevenson's porch about a story where the king of Samoa nearly ate his son.

No, really. Click to see a version that I think might be big enough to read.
It's actually a pretty good story.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


So it seems that after decades of doing things the American way, those Communist Nazis in Western Samoa have decided to switch sides!!!

I have obtained raw video that starts at the exact moment that the switch took place. Clearly there was chaos in the streets!

More coverage here.

(Seriously, I'm mostly just excited that the international press noticed this part of the world).