|German Gunboat Adler, destroyed in the Apia cyclone of 1889|
The first official Mormon missionaries to Samoa arrived at the islands in 1888. This was a tumultuous time in Samoan history, with three of the world's super-powers vying for control over the archipelago and its resources, and civil strife amongst the native factions backing either Malietoa Laupepa or Mataafa Iosefo for king.
Elder William O. Lee, one of the earliest to serve in Samoa, briefly noted some of his fellow missionaries' narrow escape from a savage cyclone that hit Apia on 15 March 1889, with devastating effects.
Here it was that we witnessed the destructive hurricane of March, 1889. Elders Dean, Wood and Beesley were on a trip to the island of Upolu arriving at Apia in our little boat, the 'Faaliga,' on the day before the hurricane. We were, therefore, eye witnesses of the effects of that terrible typhoon on the lives of the sailors, and on the vessels of the United States and German navies.Historian R. Lanier Britsch elaborates in his history of the Samoan mission:
It was while the elders were at Apia that a great hurricane struck, placing them in dangerous circumstances. A man named Moorse housed them in the loft of an old barn and slaughterhouse near the harbor. When the storm came, they had to remain in these quarters until it ended. The barn was so full of holes that they could hardly keep a candle lit even before the storm, but perhaps the flimsy construction helped the building to remain standing through the entire storm. Elder Wood later wrote that he stood at the window most of the day and night watching the ships in the harbor meet destruction. There was nothing anyone could do. But when the storm ended, 'the beach was swept clear of its row of buildings, only one small building stood, buried in the sand to the roof, which alone had saved it from total destruction.' Inside were Elders Dean, Beesley, and Wood.