Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Drop Everything and Run

Mamea Mikaele and his family.

92 yr old Suliane with her daughter and granddaughter.

Five year old Iulai had just bathed and dressed when the earthquake hit. Mamea took his son outside “in case the house couldn’t stand”. He still hadn’t showered himself so once the shaking subsided he went back to get ready for work. About ten minutes had elapsed when he heard a rumbling, like the sound of a coming storm. Then voices shouted from the road.

“Galu lolo...It’s a wave, a wave!”

The church bell started ringing, a harsh clanging without rhythm. He ran to the road to have a look, just in time to see a wave coming from behind Namua island. It divided so that one wave came straight towards them head first while the other came at an angle, sweeping over the little wharf where a motorboat anchored that took people to Namua. The wave flounced the motorboat along with it like a piece of fluff.

Mamea stood and studied the oncoming progress of the water “because Im the sort of person that has to study things carefully so that I can explain them to others, that’s what a tour guide does”. The wave “ was like when you roll a flax mat. I stood back and studied the water if it was going to affect anything and when I saw the way it was coming, I realized, oh no this is the real thing.”

Mamea grabbed Iulai and ran – over logs, bushes, pig fences and rocks. So did everyone else who could. The people of Saleaumua ran. Young and old alike – everyone was running to escape the water that wouldn’t stop. People who hadn’t run in years headed towards the inland. Many men had already gone to work in the plantations and the majority of school children were either on the road or already doing their early classroom duties. Left at home were the women, the babies, the elderly, the infirm. Mothers grabbed their little ones, their parents – and rushed to the inland bush.

Taupeau half dragged her ninety-two year old mother Suliane to the car, roaring away in a spin of sand just in time. Junior Laki used a wheelbarrow to take his blind mother Aoina to safety. Teachers at the Saleaumua Primary school led the children several miles into the bush. At the secondary school,Maths teacher Pelesala Togafau was about to ring the bell for morning assembly when he heard the screams. “You could hear the rumbling of the tsunami and the trees and the houses falling but when I looked out to sea, I couldn’t see a big wave coming, it looked only about three of four feet. But then the wave that came from the right, over the houses – it was the big one. We were so shocked. The kids were terrified. We all ran towards the back of the school and the race was on to get away. We told the students to drop everything and run.”

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