Lucky to be alive after tsunami destroys dream resort

By Bill Hoffman -
One of the few structures left standing after the tsunami hit Seabreeze. Photo / Cherelle Jackson
One of the few structures left standing after the tsunami hit Seabreeze. Photo / Cherelle Jackson

A couple are lucky to be alive after a tsunami swept through their luxurious Samoan boutique resort in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Chris and Wendy Booth were forced to cling desperately to an outside handrail as water surged up through the floor of the Sea Breeze resort, smashing out the back door and throwing them outside.

"We managed to hang on to a handrail. My husband and I just hung on to each other and the handrail and then that one (wave) went, but the suckout was tremendous," Wendy Booth told Fairfax Radio network.

"The force of the wave took furniture through the roof. The furniture was pushed with the ferocity of the wave through the ceiling."

Others were not so lucky. The death toll from the tsunami which hit at about 6.48am (Samoan time) rose throughout the day with American Samoa, independent Samoa and the Niua Islands in Tonga all affected.

It was triggered by an 8.3 intensity earthquake 33 kilometres below the ocean's surface.

Chris Booth had been a builder on Australia's Sunshine Coast for almost 40 years and had travelled regularly to Samoa with Wendy since 1996, searching for an ideal location to build their island dream.

They eventually found what they were looking for, a bay with both lagoon and surf where they could build without destroying the serenity of the location.

However the idyllic location on the island of Upolu near the village of Anganoa and sitting at the base of a cliff face almost became a death trap when the massive wave struck.

When the tsunami struck, the wave surge, which measured at more than five metres in some areas, had nowhere to go except up and then back out.

Keith Martin, another former Sunshine Coaster now running a resort on the northern island of Savaii, was more fortunate.

The resort, which was full of guests from New Zealand, received sufficient warning to effect a full evacuation including his four children.

Phone networks were congested following the tragedy but Martin told the Sunshine Coast Daily before the link dropped out that he had been extremely lucky with south-east facing resorts on Upolu bearing the brunt of the damage.

His mother, Audrey who lives at Alexandra Headland, said Keith had told her warning systems on Savaii had been effective and allowed time for the evacuation. Church bells had been rung and police were quickly there.

Some fales had been knocked about but he was anticipating being able to return guests to their rooms from temporary accommodation.

"He seemed pretty calm about it all," Mrs Martin said.

"I was amazed, but Keith is pretty laid back anyway."

She said he had told her he could not fault the warning or the timing.

Mrs Martin's home was built by Chris Booth who she described as a fastidious builder. She said the Sea Breeze Resort had a "lovely finish" which was supported by Wendy's flair for decorating.

"I can't believe it's all gone."

Martin's brother-in-law, Graeme Summers, said Keith rang him before 6am Australian time to say he had seen the whole bay in front of the resort suck dry.

"Keith said he felt the severity of the tremor and had quickly made a decision to get out," Summers said.

"The bay had sucked out so that it was virtually empty."

- SUNSHINE COAST DAILY

How you can help

Pacific Cooperation Foundation
Deposits can be made at at any Westpac branch. All the money raised will go to the Samoan Government

Red Cross
- Make a secure online donation at redcross.org.nz
- Send cheques to the Samoan Red Cross Fund, PO Box 12140, Thorndon, Wellington 6144
- Call 0900 31 100 to make an automatic $20 donation
- Make a donation at any NZ Red Cross office

ANZ bank Make a donation at any ANZ bank branch, or donate directly to the ANZ appeal account: 01 1839 0143546 00 Oxfam
- Make a secure online donation at oxfam.org.nz
- Phone 0800 400 666 or make an automatic $20 donation by calling 0900 600 20

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