An Australian sister and her colleagues at a Samoan primary school saved the lives of 320 school children when she quickly moved them to higher ground after an earthquake triggered a tsunami warning.
The Queensland-born Sister Doris Barbero, a Salesian, was teaching at St. Joseph’s Primary School on the edge of the sea in a village in southwest Western Samoa. The school is sponsored by Catholic Mission in Australia.
On Sept. 29 Sr. Doris, two other sisters and 11 lay staff felt the violent rumbling of the earthquake. According to the Archdiocese of Sydney, she said her first reaction was relief that all the children and the school had come through unhurt.
Then came strong aftershocks and the tsunami warning.
"We realized we had a very short time to get the children away from the school and the sea and up to higher ground to the hills behind us," Sister Doris said in a phone conversation with the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Sr. Doris and the staff scrambled up the hills with the children, who ranged in age from four to fifteen years old.
The older children helped the younger ones, who were very frightened.
The group remained huddled in the hills until the following day, the Archdiocese of Sydney reports. Although they escaped, many did not know the fate of their families and some still have relatives missing.
Sr. Doris now wants to raise funds to build a secure tsunami shelter high in the hills behind the school with emergency supplies in the event of a future tsunami.
Samoa-born Catholic priests Fr. Paulino and Tui Kolio and Father Tie Tie celebrated a special evening Mass at St. Therese Church in Sydney last Friday for the grieving and distraught families of victims killed or missing in the wake of the tsunami.
The two priests, both based at St. Therese parish, are migrant chaplains with the Archdiocese of Sydney who serve the local Samoan community.