I’d never encountered any serious natural disasters in my life before Tonga. I’d been in storms, but, as far as I remember, that’s pretty much it. Since being in Tonga, I’ve experienced about 8 earthquakes, 2 cyclones, seen a water spout, and now I’ve been on alert for 2 tsunamis.
As I walked home one night from the Mormon church where we were practicing a dance for a program in town, a girl stopped me. “Pele, did you hear? There’s been an earthquake in Japan, and there will be a tsunami coming to Tonga at about 5 am. If you want, we can go stay at the Mormon church tonight.” I thanked her and said that I’d see what the Peace Corps had to say.
As I walked to my house, my neighbor met me in the yard. “Pele, did you hear?”
As I talked with other PCVs in Pangai to see what the situation was, I got a call from another friend in town. “Pele, did you hear?”
As I made a bag to go to the Mormon church for the night, just in case I would spend the night there, another friend came by. “Pele , did you hear?”
Not long after that, a friend said she and her family were going to stay at the Mormon church for the night. It’s on higher ground and about a quarter mile inland – about as far inland as possible on my island.
About 20 people slept at the church. I took all kinds of things, expecting the worst in a tsunami. We had heard the wave would be 6-8 meters high. I took all my identification, money, my satellite phone, radio, clothes, water, food, my few valuables, and bedding. It looked like Tongans only brought bedding. Not surprising.
We set up some folding chairs for beds, I pulled out my mat and pillow, and I fell asleep pretty quickly. I was up off and on for the night, checking in with other PCVs and listening to the radio. Five o’clock came and went, and then daylight came.
The radio repeated and repeated not to leave safe ground, lest an aftershock sent out another wave and caught people unaware. Fortunately nothing happened. The wharf in Tonga reported a 3-foot wave. The tsunami warning was called off in the morning, and everyone went home.
A couple of days later, I heard people in Tonga were mad at the radio broadcasters. They said the broadcasters scared people too much about the tsunami and nothing ended up happening. Using fear tactics to make things happen. Now where have I heard of that before?
Anyway, that’s my second tsunami story.