As Constellation rumbled, I jumped out of my bunk at a well practiced speed. I can pull myself up and out with one hand, and be on deck in seconds from a deep sleep... Usually it's because Constellation is getting slammed or a squall has snuck up at night, and we're blasting upwind as the windvane struggles, but this was a new sensation... I stood in the cockpit and watched everyone else in the marina doing the same - The marina pylons rumbled, the docks shook. It seemed to last minutes, and then nothing. I meandered around the dock to talk with an Irish singlehander about his trip, thinking a tsunami was unlikely, as did everyone else. Then the alarms sounded, and the streets of Apia began to flood with people, as everyone jumped into any car heading to higher ground. I ran to Constellation, got my passport and wallet, and ran out of the marina. Eddy's began forming in the marina, as I considered taking Constellation out into the bay... But I knew there was no way my engine could move against that surge. My decision to stay was sound - I would have knocked around the marina in the surge and simply damaged other boats. Two large yachts departed under full engine - They strained, and began to go backwards on the second surge, as Apia harbour began to drain. The surge reversed, and thankfully the boats then rode it out of the channel to safe water. I sat near Aggie Grey's hotel, watching. It was not high ground, and in hindsight, not the most intelligent of decisions. I guess the feelings I experienced were those of people watching fires approach their homes. To go or stay? I watched the harbour recede several times, but with every surge, the danger seemed to lessen. Eventually Police drove by and said they would arrest me for disobeying orders, and demanded I seek higher ground. So I went to the third story of the hotel and waited. I had my laptop and desperately wanted to get online to see some real data. The hearsay was absurd, with nobody having any real information. Internet access across the island went down, and so I waited... Eventually things seemed to go back to normal, and the hotel gave us free breakfast... I walked into town, and was told to leave again - The town was deserted, except for what seemed like potential looters loitering around. I returned to the hotel and waited. No taxis, no people, no internet, and my visiting parents were on the south of the island, staying virtually at sea level in palm huts. Eventually data networks came back online, and I researched the USGS and other government sites for real data. I saw where the earthquake pulse came from, and realised the south of the island would have been most affected. Many locals said there was no damage on the south, but the reality is - It was chaos and no one had any idea what was happening, and with no major media, there was no real news. I attempted to call the resort of my parents, only to get a disconnected line. I returned to the marina, and heard the south was devastated... I ran to my local friend, and we immediately drove south. Everything seemed relatively normal, until we got to sea level. The wave had come at least 150ft inland. Driving along the dirt road to the remote resort, it was clear the water had come in high. Local houses and boats were trashed, rocks strewn across the road. We talked to locals who said everyone had been evacuated to the local church, and so my parents were found safe, but bruised and shaken. While we can pack up and leave, our condolences go out to the family of Virgin Cove Resort, who must now return to lost homes and businesses.
The large reef that surrounds most (if not all?) of Western Samoa offered some protection to the wall of water that hit my parents. The palm huts they were staying in were run down, as my dad was swept into the jungle, across volcanic rock. My mum sought refuge above a cistern as water rushed around her. They were interviewed by an Australian newspaper - Online here.
Thanks to the generous Aggie Grey hotel, and also to Bruce, the regional sales manager for Virgin/Polynesian/Pacific Blue - Who gave up his personal room and drove my parents to the airport this morning at 3am.
I am trying to figure out a way to assist here with Australian aid workers, but, it seems nearly impossible to figure out how to help here... There must also be remote islands who have suffered and will not receive help... If anyone knows aid organisations that are accepting volunteer help, please contact me.
And so now... Constellation and I have experienced tropical waves, towering swells at sea, dodged hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
And we're still not home yet.