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FFAS tsunami survivor moves into new home

His home was built under the FEMA Permanent Housing Program and was one of about 70 concrete homes rebuilt in American Samoa. It is also one of only two houses rebuilt in his village of Fagasa.
“My family and I are very thankful to the Lord for this wonderful program from FEMA that helped rebuilt our new home,” a thankful Paepae said. “We’ve been without a home for almost two years but our patience was well worth the wait.”
It was officially handed over on Sept. 11 but was blessed by Rev. Etitoa Sopoaga on Sept. 16 and occupied that same day.
“We are all extremely happy for Paepae and his family,” said FFAS President Iuli Alex Godinet. “They deserve this good fortune after what they went through in 2009.”
Paepae was the only staff member at the Pago Park Soccer Stadium facilities when the earthquake occurred, followed by the tsunami. Running for dear life from the headquarters towards the western gate, he had no time to open it so he climbed the fence, barbed wire at the top, with the wave almost upon him.
As soon as he landed, he was swept up and carried inland.
“I didn’t think I was going to live at all when the wave got me,” recalled Paepae. “But even with that thought in my head that I wasn’t going to survive, I still fought to live, I wasn’t going to give up.”
The wave carried him about 200 yards away before it started to weaken, and while flailing about in the water, got a hand on a root of a banyan tree and then hung on for dear life.
Luckily, he walked away with only bruises and scrapes on his arms and legs. The death toll for American Samoa from that tsunami was 34 with hundreds injured.
His family did not know the ordeal he went through on that day until he called his wife, Eseta, who had not been in danger with youngest daughter, Catherine.
He received a shock when he went home, or what was left of it.
“I did not know that our village had also been struck by the tsunami until I got there,” he said. “When I went to our home, it was gone with all of our possessions and belongings. The wave had taken it down and all my family and I had were the clothes on our backs.”
The residents of his home included his wife Eseta, daughter Catherine and sisters-in-laws Atua and Telesia Vae.
His eldest daughter Jurecz Tuigamala also lives in Fagasa with her husband Josephus, their two children, but luckily their home was not damaged.
For three months after that they lived with his wife’s cousin in Fagasa before moving into tents provided by FEMA. The tents were large, strong and very durable that could open wide or be sealed tight and were placed on their property until their new home could be built.
“My car was in the Pago Park Soccer Stadium compound and it was destroyed by the tsunami,” Paepae explained. “But right after that the association, thanks to our President Iuli, the executive committee (Sandra Herrera, Silasila Samuelu) and our CEO (Tavita Taumua) let me use our office vehicle to help out with my family.
“I want to also thank our staff for their support, well wishes and prayers for me and my family at that time.”
A week after fighting for dear life he was back at work and helped oversee the rehabilitation of the FFAS facilities and field as well as making plans to rebuild a new place of residence.
Pago Park Soccer Stadium’s rehabilitation project was inaugurated in January of this year with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono, OFC President David Chung, OFC MA presidents, ASG and Pago Pago village dignitaries in attendance.
To rebuild his home, Paepae said they awaited word from FEMA on the kind of assistance they could provide for those that had lost their homes.
“My wife heard Governor Togiola announcing FEMA’s housing assitance program and then went out and got the applications,” he recalled.
FEMA’s assistance was either a cash grant for those wishing to rebuild on their own or applying for a fully funded, FEMA-built home.
“After discussing it with my wife, we both agreed to go with having a FEMA-built home program and to have it built on where our old house was instead of being relocated somewhere else,” he explained. “We didn’t know how long it would take but we were willing to wait.”
More than a year after the earthquake and tsunami struck, work on their new home began and 10 months later it was complete.
With the house finished, FEMA also provided financial help to furnish their new home as well as purchasing a vehicle, which he is currently in search of buying, and if he has his way, it will be a pick-up truck.
“We are very thankful to FEMA and our local government for their help to people like us that lost our homes,” Paepae said. “We also want to thank all others that helped our family during this time such as Taua Sopoaga and his family and To Savave and family, to name a few.”
“Paepae is one of my best friends and someone I rely on a lot at work,” said FFAS CEO Taumua. “He is a very hard worker and is usually one of the first to get in to work. I am thankful to the Lord for the blessings he has received after fighting for his life and having his home taken away from him in 2009.”

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