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Shaken to the core

Tevita Vuibau
Friday, February 08, 2013

"I AM very shaken. It's been a very traumatic experience for me and I'm not sure whether I'm coming or I'm going."

Those were the words of distraught Fijian national Dr Ledua Waqaliti, a resident of Santa Cruz in the Solomon Islands that was rocked by the tsunami triggered by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.

The tsunami caused mass destruction on the island with two massive waves washing away houses and flooding Lata airport, which was littered with debris.

Dr Waqaliti, a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific centre on the island, said the tsunami struck after midday, shattering an otherwise normal afternoon.

"E vakadomobula saraga na ka e yaco i ke e na noa (What happened here yesterday was absolutely terrifying)," Dr Waqaliti said.

"As soon as the earthquake happened, the students in my class came and led me out of the classroom to get to higher ground.

"All I could hear was people screaming 'tsunami!'. There were mothers and children calling out to each other and there was panic everywhere as people tried to get to higher ground."

The tsunami struck the western part of Santa Cruz but Dr Waqaliti, who lives on the other side of the island, said they felt the force of the wave when it struck land.

"The island is small so when we were running to get up the hills we could hear the wave," she said.

"While we were trying to make our way into the hills, we heard people screaming that the tsunami was 20 metres from reaching the airport."

With the island still feeling aftershocks and tremors yesterday, Dr Waqaliti said many residents had opted to stay in the hills rather than risk going back into the villages.

"The tremors here come every so often, sometimes they last for only a few seconds but then there are those that go on for a minute. The authorities are saying that we should expect a second earthquake some time today (yesterday) so right now people are still camping in the hills and making beds where they can."

She also had a message for her friends and family back home.

"I just want to let my family know that I am safe but just for them to keep praying for all those here in Santa Cruz. To all my family in Nadera and to my cell group at the Wesley Butt Street Church, please remember us in your prayers.

"The families here do not have much money and it's a hard life for some of them so all we ask is that the people of Fiji keep us in their prayers."

While the Ono-i-Lau native was happy that her students managed to escape unscathed, some staff at the USP centre in Lata lost family members in the disaster.

"The saddest part of the day for me was learning the co-ordinator of the course I am teaching, John Keniop, lost both his parents."

They were among the six confirmed dead on Wednesday when the waves roared over land. They came too fast and outran five elderly villagers and a child.

Another three bodies were found yesterday.

Dr Waqaliti said Mr Keniop's father was confined to a wheelchair.

"When the earthquake hit, Mr Keniop's mother began to make the move to higher ground but she realised her husband was still back in their house and came back for him.

"Unfortunately the tsunami came before they were able to move."

Their bodies were found in the sodden wreckage after the water receded.

Dr Waqaliti's husband in Suva, Ben Waqaliti, said he had made contact with her and was relieved she was safe.

"I know right now that she is in safe hands, she rang me when it happened and she seemed to be more concerned with the students and making sure they were fine," he said.

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