Relatives in American Samoa OK after tsunami

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Diane Petelo, 8, points out her sister Aiga in a photograph of her siblings who live in American Samoa as her grandmother Diane Nydell, left, and 10-year-old cousin Cheyann Cook listen. Her family all survived the tsunami that devastated the islands Tuesday.

Kim Bartz’s eyes filled with tears Wednesday afternoon when she spoke to her sister, Tisha Petelo, speaking from the opposite side of the world in tsunami-hammered American Samoa.

“Hearing my sister’s voice was like ... a breath of fresh air,” Bartz said moments later.

Bartz, her mother, Diane Nydell, and their extended family — who live in Grand Junction — all took a deep breath Tuesday when they learned Tisha, her husband, Sio, and their four children in Samoa all were well after a powerful earthquake unleashed a tsunami on their island.

The water has receded, but the horrific nature of the tsunami’s destruction is still being revealed, Tisha Petelo said in a call to her mother Wednesday afternoon.

The quake struck at 6:48 a.m. Tuesday local time, just as Sio was dropping her off to work near the airport, Tisha told a reporter.

The quake struck moments later, and she sought shelter under a door jamb, just as she learned from years of living in southern California.

The shaking went on and on, but as soon as the earth settled. “I knew, no doubt about it, that a tsunami was on the way,” she said.

Petelo called her husband and told him to take their children to high ground, above the reach of the fast-approaching wall of water.

Her oldest daughter, Diane, 8, has been on the Redlands in the Grand Valley since March, living with Bartz and her family.

Sio and the other four children found safety, and Tisha was far enough inland to avoid the worst of the tsunami. In that, they’re fortunate. Early reports are that the tsunami claimed 100 or more lives.

At least one woman of whom she was aware was spared a terrible choice when she was walking with her two children and saw the water receding from the shore, an indicator that a tsunami is rapidly approaching, Tisha said.

The woman was beginning to realize that to escape, she would have to race for high ground carrying one child and leave the other behind, Tisha said. A passing police officer put the entire family in the car and got them to safety, she said.

Residents of the island now have begun searching for their missing relatives, friends and neighbors, she said.

“It’s very sad, very tragic and very humbling, and it’s going to be even sadder today,” she said about 10:30 a.m. her time.

Entire buildings are simply no longer there, she said, adding, “All the places we frequent, they’re just gone.”

She’s willing to help people who are trying to contact people on Samoa and can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Her mother, Diane, was frightened by how isolated American Samoa is.

“It’s 2,600 miles to Australia and 2,600 miles to Hawaii,” she said.

When a disaster such as a tsunami strikes, “There’s no place to hide,” Nydell said. “You are totally exposed.”

The destruction “is unimaginable,” Tisha said. “You don’t grasp it until you’re there at ground zero.”


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