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Tsunami threat's real, says 1953 survivor

Tevita Vuibau
Friday, February 08, 2013

WEDNESDAY'S tsunami warning and mass evacuation brought back vivid memories for those that were in the capital when it was hit by a tsunami in 1953.

On September 14 that year, shortly after midday, a tsunami generated by a 6.75 magnitude earthquake off the southeast shore of Viti Levu hit Suva.

Former Public Service Commission chairman Sakiasi Waqanivavalagi, who was a Form Six student at Marist Brothers High School then, does not rule out it happening again.

Mr Waqanivavalagi said there was always a chance a tsunami could devastate Suva the same way it did in 1953.

"I wouldn't rule it out. When I was Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, I would receive updates on climate and tremors. This was one thing I was very worried about," he said.

"I would ask those at the ministry to keep a close watch on earthquakes and tsunamis because they were very devastating and they are still a worry."

Mr Waqanivavalagi said there was a need for villagers on coastlines to be moved to higher ground in the event of a tsunami.

He said the earthquake and tsunami happened one year after a cyclone caused a lot of damage in Suva.

Recalling the 1953 event, Mr Waqanivavalagi said it was an experience he would not forget.

"When the earthquake first struck, we thought that the army was firing artillery at Nasonini because of the sound. It was only when the earth started moving that we realised it was an earthquake," he said.

"Then before the tsunami came, the water rushed out of the bay in Suva and we could see the bottom, then all of a sudden it came rushing back in."

The wall of water that roared from the ocean, he said, burst past the Grand Pacific Hotel and deposited fish and debris at Albert Park.

"It was terrible. The most terrible thing I have ever seen. It even split the Suva wharf like a twig," he said.

When the alarm sounded on Wednesday, the first thing he thought of were his grandchildren.

"The best thing for schools to do right now is to teach students what to do and what will happen in an earthquake and tsunami."


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