Survivor, 87, still won't go back to beach

By Jared Savage

Lemafa Atia'e (above), a year after his survival made news. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lemafa Atia'e (above), a year after his survival made news. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Lemafa Atia'e suppresses a toothless grin when he sees a photo of himself in the newspaper. How the 87-year-old survived the tsunami was one of the more remarkable survival stories found by the Herald in the aftermath of the Samoan disaster.

Unable to run from the imminent wave, he stayed put despite his adult children pleading with him to follow them to higher ground.

Instead, the oldest man in Utulaelae was swept from his waterfront fale and carried 150 metres, hitting a power pole and tree, before grabbing a steel post as the sea and debris washed over him. His lavalava was ripped off and after the waves had passed, two of Mr Atia'e's sons came from down the hill to look for their father. He escaped with only cuts, bruises and an injured knee.

Twelve months on, the Herald tracked Mr Atia'e up a muddy track to find his new fale far from the beach. He has a strong handshake and smiles when he sees the photo of himself.

Through an interpreter, Mr Atia'e said he survived the tsunami with "no food, no clothes, no nothing".

"I depend on what my heavenly Father provides for me. I have faith in my heavenly Father and am grateful."

He has a new home in the bush, one of seven for Utulaelae families that have started afresh away from the sea.

Still traumatised, Mr Atia'e has not returned to the beach. In fact, he rarely ventures from his fale and garden other than to attend church on Sunday.

Yet, he does not complain about losing so much - as long as he has enough money to buy some tobacco.

- NZ Herald

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