NZ tourists caught by first wave went back to beach

New Zealand tourists have told of their terror when the tsunami smashed through their Samoan beach resort.

The Virgin Cove Resort, a collection of traditional Samoan-style huts on a secluded beach on Upolu island by the first wave of the tsunami passing over a coral reef 1km from shore.

The wave was about head height when it reached the beach near the village of Sa'anapu .

All of Virgin Cove Resort's guests, 22 New Zealanders, a Briton, two Australians, and two Japanese -- survived unharmed and sought shelter at a local primary school.

Christchurch artist Melissa Sharplin, and two other New Zealanders, Kimberly Brown and Preston McNeil fled to their rental van.

"This huge wave was heading straight towards us," Ms Sharplin told the The Age newspaper in Melbourne.

"We jumped in the van, just closed the door and then the wave just crashed into the car...and swept us down into the mangroves and into trees and the windows smashed."

Ms Brown, who planned to marry Mr McNeil at the resort this weekend, said the tsunami was like a "wall of terror".

"It was just this massive, rumbling noise that sounded sort of like the way a pack of helicopters would in the distance, with that really deep rumbling," she said.

"It was a wall but it had...a foaming head and another wave came on top of it...and it kept building up...and then all of sudden you realised there was just absolutely nothing you could do and we just ran screaming to the van.

"It was like...a really bad cheesy Hollywood disaster movie but it was actually happening."

As the van filled with water and glass smashed over them, the trio feared they would be killed.

"The feeling of being swept by such a velocity of water was absolutely terrifying," Ms Sharplin said.

"We were all just looking at each other like 'this is just it' and I was just thinking about all my family and my life was just flashing before my eyes...'I'm not supposed to die,' that's all I was thinking.

"It was just the most horrible, horrible feeling."

The New Zealanders returned to their beach bungalow between waves to try to salvage their possessions, but then had to run for their lives into the forest.

Ms Brown said her mother and other wedding guests had cancelled their flights to the island and the couple now plan to marry in Wellington on the weekend.

- NZPA

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