Samoan survivor glad to be home for Christmas

By Sina Filifilia Sevaaetasi 25 December 2016, 12:00AM

Imagine being away in a foreign country when a tragedy strikes and you’re an ocean away from home.  

This is the real life experience of Tevaga Paul Chan Tung, who originally from Samoa but was caught in the earthquake that struck the Solomon Islands earlier in the month.  

Tevaga was on the Solomon Islands, with other colleagues, attending an internal and external auditing training.  

The training was one of the largest in the Pacific, hosting a number of representatives from each island nation. Tevaga was accompanied by three other colleagues who represented Samoa in the training.  

He shared with the Samoa Observer his experience. 

It’s early Friday morning, everyone is fast asleep after a long week of training, workshops and socializing.  Suddenly, at  exactly 4.38 AM, the earthquake shook the nation.  Tevaga pries open his eyes wearily trying to understand why the walls of his hotel room are moving.  Not a second passes until he realise  it’s an earthquake.  

Tevaga springs into action and heads for the nearest door. Luckily, his room was on the ground floor but worried about his fellow Samoan colleagues who’s rooms were higher up in the hotel. The only thing on his mind after evacuating the building was that the earthquake would trigger a tsunami.

After watching the 2009 tsunami devastate his homeland of Samoa, he couldn’t possibly bear to be a part of another disaster .  He regrouped with his fellow colleagues in the reception of the hotel they were staying at and headed for higher ground in case of a tsunami.

“The experience of the tsunami here in 2009, made us want to leave immediately in search for higher ground.  We walked all the way to the parliament house and luckily there was a palagi couple that had a gps satellite phone.  They guided us to the Parliament House”

By 5, everyone in the hotel had evacuated safely to higher ground.  

Luckily, a fellow colleague’s phone was still received reception and used her device to tweet about the disaster that just struck.  Her tweet caught the eye of world newscaster, CNN who then kept in touch with the.  

“Sita Leota of the audit office had tweeted that an earthquake had hit the Solomon Islands.  Someone from CNN reached out to her and then it was from there that she kept in contact with CNN.”

Finally, after what seemed like decades, everyone was cleared to return back to their hotel rooms. 

What struck Tevaga as odd is the lack of urgency shown by the people of the Solomon Islands.  Having never witnessed their homeland engulfed by mother nature, many of the Solomon Islanders were still lulling about in the street or still sleeping, rather than evacuate with haste.  

“I guess because they never experienced a tsunami before and I saw them roaming around.  It was maybe about an hour and half late that they sounded the alarm ages after the earthquake had happened,“ Tevaga stated.  

As if they hadn’t endured enough, as the team was ready to depart back to Samoa; their  flight got delayed and was left stranded in the airport with no food or money.  

Luckily a fellow Samoan who was also on the island reached out and took them in.  

Now back at home, Tevaga is a relieved man.  Having survived another natural disaster like that has really opened his eyes to the things he’s taken for granted. 

“I was really happy to come home.  When I was there, its nothing like home. Sometimes we take for granted the beautiful island of Samoa. I missed the cleanliness and beautiful island of Samoa.”

By Sina Filifilia Sevaaetasi 25 December 2016, 12:00AM

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