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Sailors log of Tsunami events in (Western) Samoa
« on: October 06, 2009, 10:33:03 PM »
In the Aftermath of the Tsunami

Sailors Glen Vienna and Sally Houston report from The Dorothy Marie

Savai'i Island, Samoa
October 5, 2009
We just received an e-mail from our friends from Gannet that Tulime, the man who never quit smiling while pulling our "ferry" across the reef in Niuatoputapu, didn't survive the three tsunami waves that hit that island. I had just posted pictures a couple of days ago of him happily being the ferryman from the mainland to Laura's resort on the little island of Hunganga. We have no words to express how sad we feel about his loss. Sadly, Laura's resort (the Palm Tree Island Resort) was a casualty also, but that was mere wood and screen - it could someday be rebuilt.

We are now anchored in a lovely bay called Matautu on the island of Savai'i - also in Samoa. It felt good to get away from Apia on 'Upolu where the reminders of the devastation were so great. There was absolutely no wind yesterday no we had to motor the whole way, but were thankful it was so calm. It was amazing how much debris is in the water and we found ourselves starring, but not really wanting to see what may be floating by. We went ashore today to explore and had a wonderful snorkel adventure in the coral gardens right here in our anchorage. It is soooo hot here - getting in the water felt great. We're feeling pretty low again tonight after the sad news, but are again reminded just how lucky we are. Another big thank you to everyone who has sent such wonderful e-mails and even more information than we have been able to get locally. We promise a more positive report soon!

October 2, 2009
A big hug and thanks to all of you for your e-mails, phone calls, and caring thoughts. We appreciate it so much! We know several more of you tried to call and couldn't get through - both power and phone coverage, even cells, were out for some time. News coverage at home is so much better than what we can get out here, so you guys probably know a lot more about the specifics than us, but we thought we'd give a quick update on what we have seen and heard. I still want to write about our adventures on the island before the quake and tsunami hit, but will save that for another day.

After getting back to the boat after the evacuation, our first concern was to let everyone know we were all right. Then, reality hit about just how lucky we had been. We were just starting to hear about how hard the southeast side of the island was slammed, when, about 4:00, the tsunami alarms went off again and we again were instructed to evacuate to higher ground. This time, however, the water in the harbor remained fairly calm - no big recession, so it didn't feel nearly as intense as the first evacuation. As Glen and I were making our way back up the street, new friends George and Kathleen, from the boat Kalalau, were driving their rental car back towards the marina. They picked us up and drove up a hill to safer ground. They had been standing in line at a grocery store in the downtown part of Apia (with a basket full of their final provisioning) when the alarms went off and everyone was rushed out of the store. Their first thought was to get back to their boat and the two young men who are crewing with them. It didn't take long for the alarms to stop this time, and we drove back to the marina. Thankfully it didn't matter, but we had been much better about grabbing stuff this time - the address book with everyone's phone numbers, the power cord along with the computer, our external hard drive with all our photos, Glen was fully dressed, and I had my jewelry box in toe! We left it all in the backpack ready to go just in case we should be evacuated again. We listened on the VHF as an Orion plane from New Zealand hailed boats that were underway to let them know another wave may be coming. Boats out in deep water are actually much better off than those at anchor or in a marina. The swell would just pass right under them. Finally the warning was completely canceled with no reported waves hitting anywhere on the island. We were so pleased to have an alarm free night, but couldn't sleep very well all the same.

The official death count right now on Samoa is 111, but many are still missing. Over 140 were injured seriously enough to require hospitalization and many, many more have cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Hundreds have lost everything - their homes, clothes, vehicles, etc... We chatted with a couple in town yesterday who were both cut up pretty badly. The girl told us their story - they felt the earthquake, but the water near their beach didn't seem to recede. A minute later, some children from their village came running in from the reef yelling that the water outside of the reef had "gone away." The village they lived in didn't have an alarm, so thankfully the children knew what to do. The couple got in their car and was trying to drive away when the first wave hit - reports say a mere 13 minutes after the start of the quake. The wave rolled their car and pushed it off the road where it was left on its side. The man was able to kick a window out and had just gotten himself out and was pulling on her arm to help get her out when the second wave hit and swept him away. The car filled with water and she was trapped. She said she tried to get out but finally gave up and faced she wasn't going to make it. A third wave then hit the car and rolled it more so she was able to get some air and get out. Amazingly, they both lived through the ordeal. They were in the internet cafe trying to get word to her family in England and some of his relatives in New Zealand that they were okay. Their cell phones had been washed away and they didn't have any telephone numbers. Another story... the parents of a young single-handler on a boat a few slips away from us had just arrived for a vacation to see their son. They were staying on the south side of the island in a resort. The mom was up at the showers (a separate, shared facility in many "resorts" on the islands) and was able to get up on top of the water cistern before the first wave hit. The dad couldn't get to higher ground and was swept away - being tumbled along the volcanic rock ground and hitting trees. Thankfully he survived, but was in pretty rough shape when they got back on a plane to head home to Australia. Their son, Nick, is now volunteering with the red cross unloading trucks. The stories we have been hearing go on and on, and sadly not all have happy endings.

In American Samoa, the cruising boats in Pago Pago were not as lucky. At least two were hurled up on land and one was washed down the main street while its mast was taking down power lines. The captain of a boat name Mainly was washed overboard. His wife had been down below and when she went up to look for him, he was gone. His body was recovered and she later found it at the morgue. She is now a widow, alone on a damaged boat (their home), far away from their family and home country. I cannot even begin to imagine how she will cope. One of the boats which wasn't damaged in Pago Pago reported (on the SSB) they were on a mooring ball with 30 feet of water under their keel but ended up hitting bottom when the water receded from the harbor (and we thought we had it bad touching bottom when 6-7 feet of water rushed out of the harbor!). Several other boats, including a little boat named Sunshine, were completely destroyed. Again, the stories go on and on.

Our last port of Niuatoputapu was hit extremely hard. We just couldn't believe it when we heard the reports that two of the three villages suffered huge losses. We finally were able to get internet to see some of the coverage and checked out the website at matangitonga.to It has aerial photos that show a lot of the homes near the shoreline were washed away. Those poor people were already hurting from not having supplies delivered for over 3 months and now this. Many cruisers here is Apia collected medical supplies, food, etc... to send to the island with our new friends from Kalalau. They were heading that way anyhow, but left a few days early to get supplies there. The two young men that are crewing with them (Nick and Tory) bought lots of hammers, nails, gloves, tarps, etc... to take down to help rebuild whatever they can. The photo added to this entry is one of theirs - they went to the south side here in Samoa to check out the damage and offer help. They had just come back from a road trip of the island and wanted to check out if their new friends at a little fale (tiny hotel room) were okay. They both are great photographers and shared their photos. They were shocked to find their fale, along with the restaurant and family homes nearby were all completely washed away. I'll work on getting some more of the photos into the gallery - they're heartbreaking. In this picture, you can see tons of debris from several homes that were destroyed and if you can zoom in on the top right corner, you'll see a powerboat that was thrown up onto the roof of one of the houses. Another roof then landed back on top of the boat. Anyhow, we eagerly await what they find in Niuatoputapu. There have been a few reports (on SSB) from the 2 boats that were left unharmed in the anchorage there that there have been many deaths and a lot of destruction. I had put quite a few new photos in the gallery from our visit and went back to add comments on what we think may or may not be left.

A side story from Niuatoputapu... our new friend Laura, who owns the little Palm Tree Island Resort (and hosted the "Cabaret" party) had left for a trip to Fiji with one of the other sailboats. She had then flown from Savusavu to Suva to Nuku'alofa and was trying to catch a flight back to Niua, but couldn't because a beacon on the island had gone out and they wouldn't allow a plane to go. She had contacted us, knowing we were heading to Samoa, to see if there was a boat heading from Samoa to Niua. She was able to fly into Apia on the Monday night before the quake. We hadn't heard from her and were so thankful to finally hear she had made it safely. She stayed the night with us and then sailed off to see what may be left of her home with Kalalau. It should have been a day and a half trip, but we heard this morning that they were having to beat into the wind and it was going to take them an extra day to get there. On top of that, the markers for the passage through the reef had been washed away, so when they get there, they will have one heck of a time getting in to the anchorage. We're hoping to hear they make it safely tomorrow on the SSB.

I hope this doesn't seem to be endless rambling. We are still somewhat in shock that this horrible thing really did happen here where we are and had just recently been. I promise the next entry will be more positive - we really were enjoying Samoa before the Q and T hit! Big hugs to everyone and thanks for all the comments. We are thrilled to hear from all of you - and can't wait to catch up a little more personally with long lost friends and family that posted. :)
Read more updates : http://www.sailblogs.com/member/thedorothymarie/

 


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