At 6:48 am on the morning of the 29th of September 2009 a large submarine earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale struck off the southern coast of the Samoan islands. The quake generated a tsunami measuring fourteen metres at its highest point which crashed into the Western and American Samoan coastlines just fifteen minutes later. The massive waves overwhelmed the island communities, wiping out entire villages, injuring hundreds and claiming at least 189 lives.
After touring the devastated coastline, Oceanic Group director Locky Mulholland established Operation Heal and Protect to help rebuild the shattered society and ensure such destruction and loss of life can never happen again. After rallying several Wellington and New Zealand businesses and holding a number of successful fundraising events Operation Heal and Protect had raised over one million dollars to put toward achieving its lofty goals.
The village of Poutasi on the south west coast of Upolo was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami. The Oceanic family lost a number of close friends from this area. Operation Heal and Protect has undertaken the rebuilding of the Poutasi community centre which being right on the beach bore the full brunt of the tsunami’s force. Plans were finalised in November of 2010 and construction began in January of 2012. The brand new community centre was opened in August and is equipped with a kitchen, sports ground and stadium-style seating. It has been built in the newly designated saftey zone away from the coast and has also been designed to withstand most natural disasters.
The next step of the project is the installation of a tsunami warning system on the network of cellular phone towers across Samoa. It became apparent in the wake of the destruction that more could be done to alert people to the danger of an oncoming tsunami. With most villages in Samoa having a cell phone tower, the network is the ideal method of providing a siren tsunami warning to the population and with its expert knowledge of the infrastructure, Oceanic and Heal and Protect are the ideal people to lead the project.