No, no, no, we don’t get tsunamis!

You know, New Zealand has an incredibly long coastline. Here we are in the southwest Pacific on a Plate Boundary. We are susceptible to tsunami. So what do these things feel like? We’re going to hear from a few people who have been right up close to a tsunami, that have actually witnessed one. We went to bed in our fale and slept, and got woken in the morning by a very loud noise and by violent shaking. We were woken by the earthquake which was a rolling motion that went on and on and on for probably a couple minutes. This is what woke us and stopped us if you like. It woke us up and stopped us as we looked at each other and said ‘is this the sort of place you get tsunamis?’ I sort of thought ‘I’ll go and have a look’ and I went and stood by the water, checked to see if there was any water disappearing as we knew might be the case, but everything was as it should be, the reef was a kilometre out, I could see the waves breaking out there, that was ok. I was brushing my teeth and I heard a noise outside that sounded like a really strong gust of wind in the palm trees, I looked outside and the palm trees were dead still, they weren’t moving. people looking at us like ‘are you a bit crazy’ or something. I came back to the restaurant and said to the guys ‘Are you sure you don’t get tsunamis here?’ and they reassured me that no, they didn’t. I wish I had told them to run up a hill, these people did get caught in their car by that tsunami. I walked down the two or three steps from the restaurant, turned left to face the lagoon and was starting to walk and realised right there in front of me, about a couple hundred metres offshore, there was a wave. A large wave coming towards us -there are not meant to be waves in a lagoon, at which point I suddenly realised that this was the wave arriving. This wave had come up to where the tables, chairs and cushions were for the restaurant that we ate at, and it had washed them all into the sea. So that was the wave, first way of course we didn’t know that another one was coming, we just went back up, quite miffed, and then next thing, the guys were saying ‘Run! Run!’ I thought ‘This is it, this is what a tsunami’s all about, this could be the end of us.’ And at that point, my first thoughts were ‘I must tell people’. and I let out this yell which started somewhere down in my stomach and came as a roar out of my mouth saying ‘Tsunami’ or ‘Tidal wave’ or whatever, and called in the same breath from my partner and to grab things and run. The deep thundering roar that sounded like thunder was actually the sea that was racing towards us. It seemed to me that the whole body of the sea had risen and in a few seconds it was going to arrive at where we were standing, and we were going to be swept away if we were there when it arrived. Somebody shouted ‘Get out of here or you will all be history.’ So I just ran and I didn’t look back. Voices everywhere calling ‘Run!’, ‘Oh my God’, mass panic, and so we did, we just turned and ran as fast as we possibly could. And we could hear the water already, and the noise of the water exceeded the noise of the earthquake, it was so loud. The first wave rose up the small beach over a ridge that we were standing on, with us running in front of it, and down the other side, collecting rubble, collecting motorbikes, collecting bricks and walls and trees and all sorts. In with the water there were cars, people, corrugated iron. The imagination of water just doesn’t describe it properly. It look like one horizontal body of water with an edge to it, like a wall. Behind the rubble, the entire sea was at that level, so it wasn’t just a wave, but the whole sea had risen up to that level. It was like a freight train, a really big freight train that wasn’t going to stop for anything. I just remember racing in front of it, I think my mum was running as fast as she could ahead of it, and just, just keeping ahead of it. It just came closer and closer and we tried to move on, but I couldn’t really go anywhere at this point, and then the water did crash in. The water was rushing and the next wave was coming fast, and then it was on me. And it must have been at least up to my knees, because for a few seconds, I wondered if I was going to be able to stand upright and keep running. I was probably slowed for a little bit, all I remember is that I kept running. We were incredibly fortunate that we’d obviously going high enough that the wave didn’t get to us. On our area of island there was just one little hill which all the locals and all the tourists all ran to. And then we went back to the beach and had a look at what happened. Where we had been staying was completely flattened. It was extraordinary going back to the compound and seeing what the wave actually had done. It was just a mass of stuff. People’s belongings, bits of buildings, bits of a boats, sea creatures, seaweed, just devastation. All the bungalows were smashed to smithereens except our one for some reason. Big brick buildings, massive strong buildings were just rubble, non-existent. Once the water receded, it was very very quiet, nobody spoke. it was just amazing how fast the help was there, and at the hospital we saw really what happened, and how many people did get affected and there was more people brought in, dying people and dead people, injured people. So the scale of their the catastrophe really became clear. When we came back down afterwards, our particular fale was completely demolished. it was nothing but wire netting and palm fronds and rubbish really. All our luggage had disappeared and our stuff was gone. Nowadays, one of the first things we do when we go to a coastal resort is to actually look for the escape route that we would use in the event of a tsunami or major earthquake, we’d be on our way. If there was ever something strange happening in the sea again, some kind of freak wave that was just a little bit larger than normal waves, I would definitely be moving away. We all know pretty much how the sea does behave, we’ve all stood at the beach and watch the waves rolling and and out sometimes it gets rough, but you definitely know when something is unusual. The sea is huge and powerful, and it has no mercy. Now, if i were to see the warning signs happening in front of me, I would get out of there. Everything in a situation like this is about right and wrong and every decision you make can can have tremendous consequences. If I was ever to see the same thing again, the first thing I would do is run as fast as I can to the highest hill I can find. Holding your breath for a few minutes is not enough. I suppose the message really is that if you’re at the beach, you have to be aware of your surroundings, be aware of what the sea is doing. And should you feel an earthquake, or notice that the sea is receding rapidly, or that there are odd sounds relating to the sea moving in that way, then act. Get to higher ground immediately Think for yourself and act accordingly. It’s your life, you need to preserve it.

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