TUVALU AND THE HURRICANES
The following is a story by George Westbrook of the hurricane known to have struck Tuvalu in 1883. The story is extracted from the book Gods Who Die by Julian Dana as told by George Westbrook, one of two English traders on Funafuti; the other trader was Alfred Restieaux.
Alfred Restieaux (Resture) was the grandfather of Pasefika Falani (Pacific Frank), author of the book The Hurricane in Funafuti, Tuvalu (Hurricane Bebe) which took place on Saturday 21st October 1972.
STORY BY: GEORGE WESTBROOK
The Gods of adventure have always dogged my heels with more persistency than the Gods of luck. Just half a century ago - in 1883 - I encountered one of the great perils of my life. At that moment I was a sole inhabitant and lonely King of the whole isle of Funafuti; without human companionship I had to face the sudden fury of a tropic land that can be so ceaselessly gracious....
I have mentioned Tema, the Samoan native missionary, who had been placed on the island by the London Missionary Society. During the time I was present, and up to the British annexation and landing of a Resident Commissioner, this Tema was the whole show.
All the islanders belonged to one church, no opposition was tolerated, and most of the old aristocracy held subordinate positions in the new hierarchy. Not only did Tema receive keep and salary; he was the autocrat who ruled the place and framed all the laws. In fact, Tema was the law.
For three years, at odd moment, the natives had been erecting a coral lime church on Funafala, the neighbouring recreation island. Though they resorted there only once or twice annually, this church, as it so often the case in the island, was large enough to accommodate ten times the entire population of Funafuti.
Tema took it into his head that the partially finished place of worship must be entirely ready for occupancy by the time the missionary - barque John Williams was scheduled to arrive. Then he would be able to show off two churches under his charge and have all the dearly coveted ostentation of an official dedication. Besides, there would be a great accumulation of coconut when they returned; this would guarantee a plentiful supply of copra for the missionary's subscriptions.
The only way to hurry this edifice along was to order every man, woman, and child to the recreation island, and keep them there until the church was completed. So entirely were the islanders under this Samoan's thumb that not one native murmur of protest was heard when Tema gave his order to depart.
Both Restieaux and I were politely commanded to accompany the party and both of us voiced heated objections that could have been heard "down under." It was a rather ticklish situation for two traders to be in--we were permanent residents and could not afford to offend every islander en masse. It called for every bit of tact and diplomacy we could evolve, moreover, it irritated us beyond measure because the affair appeared foolish--the whim of a native a shade more intelligent than his fellows.
Finally, after deliberation, we arranged a compromise. I was to remain the sole occupant of the island and protect both Restieaux's trade and mine from molestation by possible passing ships. Alfred resigned himself to the inevitable but confided to me privately that he would like to toss Tema to the sharks. I was unmarried and living alone; they even took my cook-boy and clean-up servant on the pilgrimage. All the comradeship remaining to me was contained in two small animal bodies--my dog and cat, Toby and Tom.
When the last canoe was gone and the exodus complete, I looked down at Toby. His small, whiskery face was all puckered up and he seemed quite satisfied at the new state of affairs. "Well, Toby," I asked, "what do you think of things?" He gave a short bark of commendation and dashed around the corner in pursuit of a stray chicken that had escaped capture by its owner. I laughed and let him go. There was plenty of chicken chasing for him in the next few days and no chance of an indignant native popping out from unexpected places. For a time we almost lived on poultry; Toby did the catching and killing, I the cooking, and we shared alike.
The first few days of my Robinson Crusoe existence was rather exhilarating; I really enjoyed the silence and the solitude. Toby sometimes growled and barked in his sleep, thinking he was romping with missing playmate; when I woke him up he always looked at me most disgustedly and then settled back to further snoozing. The village lay just as the departing clans had left it---houses, church, mission buildings, and school. Sometimes I would go solemnly to the fono (meeting place) and beat the lali, as though calling the people together. It seemed strange to hear the voice of the lali and see no trooping natives responding to its call.
On Sundays I made a point of going to church. First I would ring the bell, and then ascend the pulpit. I would commence the service by singing a hymn in true native missionary style. Toby would sit on his tail and watch me, joining in with a wail whenever I went out of tune---which was often. Tom would sit in furry indifference and shame both of us by his decorous attitude. But when it came to the sermon my entire congregation yawned impolitely and dropped off to sleep.
Invariably I had to wake both of them up when my discourse had dwindled down into a half-hearted conclusion. The graceless pair always seemed to make a more joyful exit than an enthusiastic entry.
The three of us used to stroll across to the weather side and sit in the wind and sun, side by side, for hours on end. There I would sometimes read aloud to my slumbering companions with appropriate gestures; I recall that Hamlet had no power to stir an eyelash on either of them. Or perhaps it was the fault of his interpreter. I spent a great many of these solitary hours fishing; occasionally I bathed in the sea and ranged the taisala on the look-out for the tasty u'u. I used to chase these crabs to their lairs where they tunnelled in to change their shells; and many a delicious snapper fell before the persistent prowess of our island trio.
At one time I found the beach in front of my house strewn with thousands of small fish that had been chased ashore by kindred cannibal schools; these fish are known as atule in Samoa. I managed to salt and dry a few hundred of them for future use. One night a female turtle ventured ashore; probably she was misled by the lack of lights about the village and incautiously decided the place was deserted. I heard her digging in the sand with her flippers, preparatory to laying her eggs; very swiftly I rushed out and over-turned a most dismayed sea-tortoise who should really have displayed more common sense.
Later I released her; no one man could have eaten the two hundred and fifty pound specimen-not even assisted by a cat and dog. There was one recurrent phase of solitude I had to fight against; with scrupulous care I shaved every day, washed my clothes, and kept my body clean. There is an almost overwhelming urge to let things slide--get careless--when a man is alone on an isle where real labour is unnecessary to sustain life. Every moment I had to fight this insidious lassitude and indifference in regard to my personal self. A man can never let down in the tropics, no matter how primitive, simple and lonely his life may be....
The natives were away much longer than I had anticipated. Toward the end of the eleventh week of their absence the wind began to blow with unremitting force from the west; it grew stronger and stronger. The tropic sky was cloudless, whipped free of any vapour; the stars were intensely luminous and brilliant by night. The barometer was falling rapidly; but it did not take that man-made instrument to interpret island signs. Funafuti lay in a hurricane belt and every indication pointed to the fact that we were due for a terrific blow.
The wind had made everything cooler and the weather was delightful. Yet still the wind blew monotonously and ceaselessly from the same direction; and still its strength grew greater. I worked like a beaver securing my thatched roof and trying to prepare my house against the wrath to come; my windows were closed tightly and I nailed protective sacks upon them. My two companions were strangely restless and never let me out of their sight.
One night--the fourth after the wind began--I was aroused by the fall of heavy rain on the roof of my dwelling. Then I noticed the wind was coming in short, sharp puffs, an ominous sign. Almost immediately the wind increased in velocity and the rain fell with cloudburst intensity. I put on a pair of woolen trousers and attempted to cross the narrow way to my copra-shed. The fine sand drove up from the beach as it was fired out of a shotgun and penetrated everything; I was almost blinded. It whipped through my trousers and lashed my skin like tiny razor blades.
The sky was a wall of liquid jet and I felt, childishly, as if an inverted inkwell was flooding down upon me. Every now and then vivid lightning shattered that inkwell but its supply of liquid seemed inexhaustible. ... Then he full force of the hurricane struck Funafuti. Coconut palms leaned earthward in the black; fronds were torn off the trees and winged away like stricken birds into the boiling sea. My copra-shed went first, sheared away like a paper place; my cook-house followed it. The thatched roof of my house lifted suddenly off its supports, raised into the air like a hat in a gale and then dropped on the coral cement walls.
I covered my trade as best I could with anything I could lay my hands on--mattresses, sacks and mats. Drenched to the skin, I dared not stay in the almost flattened structure. Gathering some necessary belongings, I took refuge outside the wall furthest from the beach. Here the blasts did not reach with the same snarling vigor. Trees crashed down on all sides. The native houses on the beach went sky-rocketing away in the infernal blackness--it seemed that nothing remained. Toby an Tom nestled close to me; Toby whined as the fierce gusts struck at us and the vivid lightning flashes gave us short, flash-light glimpses of destruction. Tired and terrified, we waited for the night and the storm to pass. I longed for daylight, even though the hurricane might continue. To me the dark but added to the almost unseen terrors of the wind and rain.
I dared not try to gain the open; once I attempted it but was beaten flat by the raging squalls. There was danger, too, of being struck by falling coconuts and fronds. So we three cowered in the darkness and hung close to our miserable shelter. It was fortunate we did. Just at dawn the wind came with a force that shamed the fury of the night; so strong was the roaring gale that wet sand rolled up from the beach like a moving curtain and spread itself like a heavy mist across the island. It came questing over the top of our shelter like some mad-phantom out of space and curled inward to where we sheltered. Blood ran down my face as if it had been but by a thousand tiny knives of torture; Toby thrust his nose close to my body and whimpered like a frightened child; Tom yowled in feline agony and rolled himself against my chest in a furry ball. ...
A sickly daylight finally filtered through the pall. The wind began to lessen and in two hours it dwindled away to a stiff breeze. Stiffly I stood up Toby and Tom unrolled and tried to shake the sand out of their hides. I was exhausted, sore, cramped in every joint, and my face was a cake of massed crimson. Slowly I made an almost mechanical tour of inspection. Every house had been obliterated save a few sheltered by the church-walls; all were gone--church, school, fond-house, and missionary dwelling. They stood as though gutted by fire; nothing but bare walls remained standing and the inside shell was drifted high with sand like a bank of snow.
In one place I saw sixty or seventy coconut trees snapped off like carrots, about six feet from the roots, this was mot unusual--because of the shallowness of the soil they usually heeled right over. I had barely returned to my ruined home when when the moderated breeze began to freshen. In exactly thirty minutes the hurricane was blowing harder than ever from another quarter--the north. Luckily I was afforded more shelter than when the gale had struck broadside on; but it demolished the few native huts that had previously been sheltered by the coral walls of the church.
All that day and night there were lulls and then terrific squalls; it seemed to me as if all the demons of the underworld were let loose on battered Funafuti. I was lying on the lee-side of a four hundred gallon water-butt; this, with the outer wall of my flattened house, was my sole protection against wind, rain, and drifting debris. So dead tired was I-so absolutely done up-that toward the end of the second day of the storm, I actually fell asleep in the midst of the shrieking uproar....
When I awoke the sun was shining brightly from a serene sky of azure. A heavy sea was breaking on the beach inside the lagoon; usually the water was tranquil there, even in a storm. But Funafuti lay a ravished isle under the sun's golden eye. ... I limped about and got a bite to eat for the three of us; poor Toby could barely navigate but Tom was in better shape. After I dug out something to take the edge off our hunger, I looked the island over again. My heart was heavy. When once a coconut palm is torn from its roots, it means Finns for that particular tree; so many lay fallen that I woefully judged the producing power of the island had been materially reduced. I realized that my store goods would not be saleable if there was little copra for exchange, the outlook was bleak in a commercial way for Funafuti.
I took a dip in the lagoon, then I opened another tin of bully beef and resurrected some biscuits. These I shared with Toby and Tom. After a time I began to take a more optimistic view of things. Restieaux's copra-shed lay flattened out; it happened to be full of copra at the time and I knew that it would soon smell worse than desiccated porpoise. Luckily for me my trade-ship had shipped all my copra just two weeks before the natives left for Funafala. There was but little I could attempt in the way of salvage. Yet I kept busy about my ruined trade-room and hoped for the return of the natives and another trading-vessel.
I believe that if it had not been for the little terrier I would have gone mad in those three months of loneliness. My solitary state had begun to prey on my mind; I have always love my friends and cherished them--the loss of human companionship was almost beyond my power to bear. So Toby became more of an understanding comrade than the querulous Tom. He had been given to me by the Captain of a vessel, who informed me that Toby was an Irish terrier of aristocratic breeding. Of course, he wasn't; but that made no difference to me. He was a great pal and my faithful shadow; at meal-times he sat expectantly, head cocked rakishly to one side, and awaited his tasty scraps. At night he curled himself at my feet and stayed there until we awoke. He held long dog-conversations with me and I am certain he was a gifted philosopher.
Moreover, he was a great fighter and the acknowledged canine overlord of the island; no native fur but slunk away if Toby barked an Irish challenge....For a half century he has slept in his deep grave, under the coral stones, on Funafuti. But I wish that he might know his young master-now grown old-has never forgotten him.
The morning after the hurricane had spent its force a welcome sight met my eyes. A German man-o'-war came into my lagoon and anchored! I gazed at her across the green crests and watched the moving figures on her deck hungrily. In a short time the Captain tried to send a boat ashore, but a heavy sea was still breaking on the beach and this prevented her from landing. They stood off again and my heart almost stopped its beating in my bitter disappointment. They were the first white men I had seen in a hundred and three days; I felt I must talk to them.
I was a strong swimmer and I tried to swim off to that boat. But I was knocked off my feet and washed back to shore by the rolling combers. Battered and soaked to the skin them I accepted defeat; I sat upon the beach and watched the boat with somber eyes.
Later in the day they tried it again. I leaped about the beach and capered my encouragement. She made it! Her crew pulled her above the surges and hauled her above the water line. The ship was the Hyane, Captain Geissler, bound from Samoa to the Marshalls, with Dr Stuebel, German Consul for Samoa. Dr Stuebel was the first man to come up the beach. He rushed forward excitedly and shook my hands. "Where are all the rest of the people?" he queried. "I'm the people," I said. "But where are the islanders and the missionaries?" he said in a puzzled fashion. "At the present I am the sole inhabitant," I told him. Then I elaborated and gave him the whole story in regard to the exodus. With great good nature the doctor gave orders to the boat crew to aid me in cleaning up my place a bit.
One of the men cut my hair, which had grown too long for comfort or convenience. Captain Geissler informed me he was pressed for time but would wait and interview the missionary Tema. The way he said that sentence warmed me to the man; I made a shrewd guess that the hurricane had not blown over - for Tema. The advance guard of the natives, two canoe loads arrived that night. They were amazed to see Funafuti in its stricken state; only a slight gale had been felt on Funafala, a bare thirty miles away. f
Next morning brought the rest of the church builders. Including my perturbed friend, Restieaux. Tema had no sooner stepped on shore than the Captain and Consul bored down on him. "What do you mean by leaving a white man alone in this manner?" roared Dr Stuebel. "He might have been killed or became ill with no one to aid him! What is all this damn foolishness I hear about taking four months to build a church?" The sullen Tema stammered that I could have gone with the others - like Restieaux. I thought the red-faced martinet would have a stroke of apoplexy at this. "The cheek of the damned missionaries!" he growled, and added a further barrage in German, which I did not understand.
After his severe reprimand, the natives were first ordered to fix up my roof; this was done while all the women and children were digging their remaining belongings out of the sand. Then Restieaux's home was repaired and put in habitable shape before the islanders were allowed to work on their own houses.
It was a long, disheartening task and took them weeks.
When Captain Schroeder of the Haapai, Restieaux's trade-ship arrived from Samoa a few days later, a problem awaited him. He was dismayed to find the waiting copra smelling worse than the Limburger cheese he loved so well. At first he flatly refused to receive the shipment and muttered oaths to himself every time he looked at the island or took a deep breath. The supercargo was in favour of accepting it. The rancid mess still contained plenty of oil; moreover, if they left it on Restieaux's hands, he would have no funds to make good with. Schroeder hinted darkly that it would be bad business either way.
In the end, fifty tons of putrid copra were taken aboard. One silent fact I now recall: after this voyage Captain Schroeder decided never to brave the unguessed perils of the sea again; he married and settled down on fragrant Malie, where copra is shipped in a less odorous condition.
When the John Williams did arrive, Tema did not have two churches to exhibit. Instead, he had to point to the remnants of one and dolorously inform the visiting--and critical--white missionary that there was another one not yet completed on Funafala. But Tema was not slated to retain his post much longer; his church on the recreation island was never to be finished. Soon the Ellice group came under British jurisdiction and a Resident Commissioner was stationed at Funafuti. This meant an abrupt end to Tema's reign and absurd legislation. No longer was it counted a deadly sin to miss church, or cook, or bathe on Sunday; and no longer did prurient Peeping Toms inspect sleeping couples under the mosquito screens to see that all were properly mated.
Friday the 20th October 1972 was a full moon and is usually marked as the highest spring tide of the month. On that particular day, people were doing their normal business, not knowing that the next day would bring them almost to the end of the world. The wind was already blowing from the south-east and was gradually increasing to gale force. There were still no warning whatsoever that a hurricane was approaching Funafuti. The Meteorological Office did issue a warning of strong wind, but was not at all contemplating the wind to reach hurricane force. The people were used to strong winds at that part of year, the usual gale force wind that came from the north, north-east, and north-west. When it was evening at about 6 p.m., the moon was already up, and the sea was at its highest. At this time, the wind had accelerated the waves from the ocean into billows which pounded the shore and penetrated inland, flooding the airfield, the garden pits and all other low lying areas close to the ocean side.
In the afternoon of Saturday 21st October, people were seen paddling their canoes in the airfield which was then flooded with sea water to about knee deep. The sea water came out from holes in the ground, apparently people were beginning to sense something of the ordinary for they had never seen flooding to have risen to waist deep, neither have they seen it reached knee deep.
From evening to midnight on that particular Saturday, the wind had increased to hurricane force and was playing havoc on the island, tearing down houses, uprooting trees and blowing away everything to everywhere. Even though the moon was just one day down from full moon, it did not portray any indication of its position at all.
Thick black clouds came down and were floating over the island accompanied by pouring rain. Darkness was so thick that a torch light could not extend beyond a foot. Lightning was flashing every now and again, providing effective lighting for people as they moved around the island in the early hours of the evening to seek for strong shelter. The thunder was thundering over the island equivalent to tons of explosives.
The people were completely stunned. Earlier on in the evening, people were running around, some looking for their children and some trying to mop up their relatives, and many trying to locate better shelters for the night. Those living on the ocean side of the airfield had to wade and swim across the airfield to get to the main village. At about 9 p.m., everyone is in some kind of a shelter. For many, shelter was mainly from the devastating force of the hurricane, the rain found its way through the ceilings of many houses, the roofs being blown away. The tidal wave struck at about 11 p.m. It came from the ocean side of the Island, where the power station and the meteorological office were situated. The workers at these stations were stunned by the impact of the wave on the concrete buildings. They were washed away together with the buildings, and most of them could only remember swimming in the dark hours of the night. More stories of this tidal wave will appear in the story by Peifaga Pita.
At about midnight the wind had changed to South West or West. The lagoon side of the island was then getting its share of the devastation. Four ships were in port at that time. Three of them belonged to the Van Camp Fishing Fleet. The other was the TCS "Moanaraoi". The ships belonging to the Van Camp were all blown to shore as though they were light pieces of timber. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony's ship "Moanaraoi" was very lucky. Her two anchors managed to find solid rock thus saving her from being blown to shore. In the early hours of the morning, the wind gradually began to ease slightly.
At about 7 o'clock Sunday morning, the wind has dropped from hurricane force to gale force. People began to come out from their shelters to witness the most remarkable display of nature's unmatched power. Almost ninety percent of trees were uprooted and blown down or away, so one can easily see through from one end of the island to the other, also from lagoon through to ocean side.The huge waves on the ocean side of the island were clearly visible from the lagoon side. There has not been anything like this before. Those who lived through the Japanese bombing of Funafuti in the Second World War said that the bombing was nothing compared to the fear they felt during the hours of the hurricane. The sight seen on that particular Sunday morning cannot be easily forgotten by those who actually experienced the event.
Despite the fear and sadness involved in this calamity, there were also instances which were quite amusing in the course of the catastrophe. On this particular Sunday, in the early hours of the morning, while people were still cuddling with fear and numb with cold in their hiding places, there were some people who have already started carrying away loads of goods from the Island Co-operative Store which was blown down. There was but one choice remaining; to help themselves with the goods scattered all around the area. There was no need for some kind of permission to sought under the circumstance.
Among the goods in the store, there were lots of strong drinks, from beer, whisky, gin, vodka, etc. Quite a number of young men and even middle-aged men were seen lying under fallen coconut trees each with a bottle of either beer, whisky or some other liquor, helping themselves right from the mouth of the bottle, and shouting at the top of their voices.
One most interesting thing seen on the morning of that particular Sunday was a stone wall piled up by the wind during the night The wall stretched out along the ocean side of the Island, from the east right down to the south western side. It was about ten to twelve miles long, and about ten to twenty feet thick at the bottom.
It took only one night to set it up, a job that could have taken years for man to put up. In fact, the stone wall covered the whole area that was affected by the total wave, except at the two passages as Funamanu and Mateika. The stone wall extended right from Funafuti to Funafala, except at the passages.
Another astonishing thing was the disappearance of the beacon at Funamanu islet on the south-west. The beacon was almost round in shape and painted white. It was fifteen feet high and about ten feet in diameter. There was no trace of the beacon on the reef on which it was erected.
The wind continued at gale force for several days. The "Moanaraoi" was still unable to send her launch ashore and no one was able to go to the boat from shore, because the lagoon was still rough. Fortunately, a contact was made between the "Moanaraoi" and shore through walkie talkie. The communication line was therefore established from "Moanaraoi" to Tabiteuea and then on to Tarawa in the Kiribati Group. "Moanaraoi" also connects to shore, thus Funafuti was able to communicate to Tarawa and then to the rest of the world. The first message that came from Tarawa was to get the airfield cleared as soon as possible. The message added that the quicker we get the airfield ready for operation the quicker we would get help needed from outside.
The airfield was covered with stones from the ocean brought up by the tidal wave, and also with uprooted coconut trees and pandanus trees which were scattered all over the airfield. Everybody on the Island was put to work on clearing of the airfield. Everyone worked very hard and managed to clear the airfield in a short period of time. It was then that the aircrafts began to come. The first aircraft brought in 140 tents, including clothing, foodstuff, utensils etc. Some army engineers came to show the people how to rig up the tents. There were technicians who also came to install temporary wireless sets.
The district officer's house was renovated for use as a ration store, where all foodstuff received will be stored. Food was rationed two times a week. This went on for quite sometime, and people were very grateful to all who have been responsible for provision of all that foodstuff and etc. The district officer then was Mr. Collin Redstart, and he was away at that time in Tarawa. He returned after the hurricane had devastated Tuvalu.
The ship "Moanaraoi" survived the hurricane. When the sea was calm enough, the "Moanaraoi" began to unload her cargoes which she brought from Fiji. One of her launches was sent to pick up some of the people who lived on Funafala, an islet about 12 miles from the main Island of Funafuti. There were about ten of them, all well and in good health.
The first ships to arrive were from Tarawa. They were the "Teraka" the Colony marine training vessel, the "Ninikoria" and the "Nivaga" to install equipment on the island. A medical team also came to attend to matters of health and sanitation.
The ship also brought countless items which were donations from the various organizations, the Red Cross, the Save The Children, and many other Christian Organizations. There were rumours spreading around the island that the two ships mentioned above were sent to standby in case the hurricane turned round again. The hurricane fortunately did not strike again. From what people have seen, felt and learnt about the terrific force of that hurricane, it was with no slightest doubt that anything from a small boat to a big floating giant in the lagoon would not have the power to withstand the fearful force of that dreadful wind.
Another ship that also came was a Japanese cargo freighter, the "Ellice Maru". She did not come into the lagoon, but was drifting outside Tepuka islet. She brought in building materials and many other items for the people. The cargo she brought were loaded on to the "Nivaga". which carried them into the lagoon and thereby transferred by boat to shore.
Some people have already put up temporary shelters using timbers and iron roofing found lying around everywhere on the island. A group of people were sent out to repair the houses in the Government Station, the Hotel, houses in the Mission Station and the Maneapa. The Maneapa was specifically important for it was needed then to serve more than one purpose. It was required to hold meetings in; it was needed for Sunday worship (the Church building was the very first building to go down in the early hours of the hurricane), the rations for the whole community was also carried out in the Maneapa. Rationing of food went on for months until about the end of April the following year. By that time, the people were quite able to provide for themselves from the local products. Imported foodstuff were also available. Most families have a good supply of pulaka roots which they dug up from the garden pits immediately after sea water got into the pits. There was also a good supply of foodstuff coming from the other Islands of Tuvalu which were not affected by the hurricane. Fishing equipment's and canoes received from the other Islands of Tuvalu were distributed for use in providing of fish for themselves.
Early in 1973, the young men on the island were divided into groups to start clearing up of the whole island. This was to prepare for the construction work of building houses for a new village which was to follow soon. Some British army engineers came to supervise the work, particularly the building of the new type of houses for every family on Funafuti. This project was provided for by the British Government. At about this time, a town planner named David Ball from the United Kingdom arrived on Funafuti to lay out a new plan for the future headquarters of the Tuvalu Government.
There were deeds of bravery performed in the course of the calamity that need to be mentioned in this page, although a fuller account would appear in the stories later on this page. A medal of bravery was awarded to Miss Meleane Pese, who on the night of the hurricane, risked her own life to save the life of a little girl who would have drowned if it had not been for her. Miss Pese was an officer with the Meteorological Station on Funafuti. This story appears in Mr. Peifaga Pita's account of the event recorded later on this page. There was also the story of a Tuvalu man on Van Camp 1, who swam ashore during the most difficult situation, when his ship ran aground, and fastened a rope to a tree so that his comrades could get ashore using the rope.
The damages inflicted by Hurricane Bebe was beyond measure. The island was almost swept clean of everything from trees to houses. In actual fact, about 90% of the houses were blown away. The whole island was almost like an airfield that needed to be cleared of trees, etc. The process of regrowth in vegetation was equally astounding. Trees that were not blown down recovered in a matter of weeks and in a few months were all producing in abundance, and most particularly the coconut trees and breadfruit. A new village was built with overseas aid funding, every family receiving an "E" grade house. I went with the District Officer on a tour of the other islands of Tuvalu to check on whatever damages that may have been inflicted by the hurricane. We found that most of the island were quite all right, except a few which were touched by the hurricane but very lightly and so no serious damages were reported.
STORY BY: MANOA MANOA
I am a retired Meteorological (Met.) Observer. I have been working for the Met. Station on Funafuti from 1961 and retired in 1980. When Hurricane Bebe hit Tuvalu in 1972, I was still working then for the Station. The memories of the calamity will remain as fresh as ever in my mind.
I was working on Shift 2, which was from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. the next day. The storm started to blow from the north-east at a speed of about 25 to 30 miles an hour and the wind was accompanied by rain and thunder. On Friday 20th October, the wind increased in speed and the airfield was flooded. The people were beginning to suspect something out of the ordinary since it was the first time they had noticed the level of the water increasing to such a height. On Saturday 21st October, the storm had increased to 40 to 50 miles an hour; at that time the Meteorological Station knew that the storm was increasing to a hurricane. The wind speed was more than 45 miles an hour and the barometer went down below 1000 to 999 and was still falling.
On Saturday at about midday, the people who worked at the Meteorological Station saw the waves from the ocean side penetrating right into the airfield. In the airfield there are potholes, and seawater was also coming out from those holes. The holes were almost like fountains from which flowed tons and tons of sea water. The water had come up to a height of about three feet. People from the Meteorological Station noticed that the barometer was still falling and it became more and more obvious that the centre of the hurricane would most likely to strike Funafuti, and it did. The other Islands of Tuvalu were also affected but not as serious as on Funafuti. That proves that the centre of the hurricane did run through Funafuti.
About 9 o'clock in the evening on Saturday the 21st October 1972, I got ready to go to work. I said goodbye to my children and advised them not to go anywhere but to stay in the house. During that time it was very difficult for me because my wife was away at Tarawa in Kiribati. An old lady was with us called Paia Magaia. I was alone with my children. I said goodbye and I left for the Meteorological Station. Tapa! It was very dark, but it was not as bad because of the frequent lightning that night. The lightning were shooting straight down from above. The clouds were hanging so low that I could feel them. As I passed Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, a coconut hit my leg and I felt down on my knees. While I was lying there, I heard a voice shouting "Viliamu", "Viliamu". The voice came very close from the Hotel and I found out it was Tausaga Talesi, she works at the Hotel. At that very moment all lights went off and it was impossible to see anything. I thought to myself that it would be wise not to go to work since the lights were out.
That was probably the moment when the first wave hit the island and destroyed the power house and everything in it, including the electricity of course. The wave went over the roof of the Meteorological Station and destroyed all valuable equipment in the office. I returned to my house because there was no need to work that night. When I reached home, I could see how happy my children were because I had returned. Shortly after I entered the house, I noticed the wind was blowing a strange way inside our house. I looked up and found there was no roof. We were all standing, leaning against the wall, trying to get as much shelter as possible from the pouring rain. My child Faesea called me to tell me that the walls were shaking. I shouted to everyone to get out of the house. Our old lady, Paia had something in her hand. I called her to jump out from the window. She was almost naked and I wrapped her well with something and we all went into our shower and toilet shelter and stood there under the rain. While we were still in the shower and toilet shelter, our big house collapsed. Suddenly someone called, she was Senitima Saitala, my wife's sister, who joined us with her children. I asked our lady Paia for her mat for us to sit on. She refused saying the mat was for her son, Sani, who was in school in Fiji. After sometimes she finally agreed to spread her mat for us to sit on. She did not realize however that she spread the mat on where our pig with her litters were.
The next day was Sunday, and the wind had dropped. I couldn't believe what I saw of the village. It was as though it was burnt down by fire. There was not one house to be seen. I went to the Meteorological Station. It was completely destroyed by the wave and wind. I was also shocked at the sight of a stone wall at the ocean side of the island. I showed the stone wall to Pastor Morikao Kaua and he commented that Scientists believe the earth came into being in a gradual process of many years, but God put up that stone wall in just a few seconds.
The victims of this Hurricane were some members of SPATC staff (South Pacific Air Transport Command); a baby, Peifaga and Manaema's grandchild, Vaekau Filemoni and an Indian. Three ships belonging to a fishing company were wrecked. I pray that no more hurricane would come to Tuvalu. I also pray to God to help the people on Funafuti to recover as soon as possible from this dreadful calamity. I pray also for the coming generations of Tuvalu who will be reading my story.
STORY BY: PEIFAGA PITA
It was about 4 p.m. on the 21st October when I noticed the bubbling up of sea water in the airfield to a height of about 4 -5 feet high. I never thought that something dreadful was going to happen. It was nice to see children swimming in the water. At about 6 p.m. the water in the airfield was getting higher and higher. The technician Victor Ariyan asked us to lift the cable wire up from the water to a height which he thought the water would not reach.
We also saw by the lights that small fishes were swimming near by. The water was till rising and at about 10.10 p.m., Victor Aiyan gave the order to switch off the power. I referred the order for Maui Teonea to carry out, because I needed to check on my wife and grandchild in the balloon room. My 8 year old daughter, Salai, was with me and I left her in Mr Tanisia's care while I went to check on my family at the balloon room. When I reached them I found them all wet. I told my wife Manamema to hand me the baby and I would attempt to cross the airfield. As I was stretching out to pick the child, something with great force hit the house and I found myself with water right up to my neck. It was a tidal wave that struck the house. I was beginning to loose my sense of direction. My son Pita was on my back. I told him there was likely to be no survivors. I asked him if he was afraid he said he was not. That encouraged me a lot. I was thinking of my daughter Salai as she could not swim, but I thanked Meleane for saving my daughter's life. My wife joined Meleane and Salai, who were clinging onto a coconut tree. The water was beginning to subside, and my son and myself were holding on to a cable near the wireless house. We did not think we would be alive. We left the place and tried to move on. It was very difficult as the wind was very strong against us, it was like a motorcar travelling at high speed. We managed to move bit by bit when the lightning flashed. The clouds came down very low where we could reach out to it.
We reached the other side of the airfield, and went into Mr. Maui Teonea's house. I told Taotao, Maui's wife, that Maui must have been lost when the wave hit and she started to cry. I left Pita in the house, and I went out with Tapakea to look for my family. We found them near the Pulaka pits and we cried, mourning the loss of our grand daughter.
After two days, Graham Worthington asked me to go back to work as a wireless operator on the "Moanaraoi". I was sort of discouraged because my family were still in a poor condition. We had no clothes of our own. We got some from the Seventh Day Adventist people. The other operator was not fit to assume duty at that time, so I went out with trainee Tagisia and Bataua a man from Kiribati. We were on board for five days and then help came from Tarawa. Wireless operator Tefoa and Fanoga came from Tarawa to install a temporary wireless, near the office. I tried my best to carry out my responsibility of trying to contact the outside world about the situation of Funafuti. I had to leave my family for several weeks. Our Government as usual did not bother at all about me and the situation of my family.
I thanked the brave Captain Murdoch for feeding us well while on his ship. I travelled on "Moanaraoi" to Tarawa and I spread news in Tarawa of what had happened on Funafuti.
STORY BY: TALIA UELESE
I remember the year 1968 when I retired as a constable from Government service. I had a piece of land at the ocean side of the airfield, it was there that I decided to build a house. I immediately began to develop the place; I built a garden with rust iron and rotten wood as manure. By 1979 the place was well developed. There was the garden, including a pig pen and large chicken run. I had over 200 chickens, 15 pigs, excluding litters. In 1969 I built a thatched house and then a brick one a few months later. The brick house was 40' x 30', quite a good size house. By 1972 I was quite well off, everything I had wanted to develop were bearing fruits. I was quite satisfied with the level of wealth that I have attained. I was prepared to simply take things easy and enjoy the fruits of the work that I have done. The disaster of 1972 can never be forgotten. I can still vividly recall the dream I had in September of that year, one month before the Hurricane. I dreamt that a wave from the ocean side was hovering over my house. I woke up and discovered it was only a dream. About three days later, my wife Sailine told me of her dream. She dreamt that she was going to Tanielu's house at the lagoon side of the airfield and that the airfield was flooded with sea water. She saw coconut and pandanus trees and all kinds of rubbish drifting within the airfield.
The dreams my wife and I had came true on October the 21st, when Hurricane Bebe struck Funafuti. On Friday the 20th, the day before the 21st, I was amazed to see water coming out from under my place and reaching out to nearby areas. On Saturday, the wind has increased its force and I told my family to move to Tanielu's place on the lagoon side or the airfield for safety. I stayed behind with my nephew Talakatoa. The officer in charge of GEIDA came along and was kind enough to take some of my luggage to store in his place. The rest of my things were left behind. At 7.30 p.m. the wind continued to increase in force. Talakatoa was standing at the door, keeping me informed of the progress of the wind. I was at that time sitting behind the table with a lamp in front of me. At about 9 p.m. the thatched house was blown down. I called to Talakatoa to run to safety. I followed him outside and we took off towards the main village. The water at that time was up to may waist. I waded through the airfield holding on to a drifting coconut tree.
The only luggage that I was able to take with me was a small bag containing some valuable items. The night was so dark I could not tell the direction I was heading to. I lost sight of Talakatoa the moment we left my house. The small bag was becoming a burden and I had to let it go. After about two hours my feet touched a pulaka leaf and I than had a fair idea of where I was. I saw a light in the distance and started moving towards it. It was the Seventh Day Adventist location. I called out and found Tui and Tanimo, Semese and Melita sitting near the table. They called me in and I told them my story. I did not stay long for I wanted to see my family, so I told them I was going to Tanielu's place where my wife and family went to.
What I did not know at that time was that the wind had changed direction. I was using the wind to guide me; instead of going towards Tanielu's place I was actually going the opposite way. I realized that when I reached the Church Office (Tuvalu Church) and the Church compound. The Church Secretary's residence was packed, a brick house and thus many people came there for shelter. They let me in and I told them my story but they wouldn't believe that I was swept by the current through the airfield. I saw the Church building which went down early in the evening. The wind had decreased in force and light of the morning was allowing us to look back at what Hurricane Bebe did in the hours of the night. I went back to look at my house, it was completely flattened. Everything that I have tried to develop have all disappeared. What remained was a pile of stone and rubbish all around. I searched for any trace of my belongings but could only found some, the rest have gone for good. Funafuti was almost totally devastated. As I was just about to reap the benefits of my labour, there came disaster and ruined everything. What else can be done but to make plans again for a new beginning.
STORY BY: TEO PASEFIKA
On the afternoon of Friday the 20th of October 1972, the M.V. "Moanaraoi" was approaching Funafuti from her way from Fiji. The sea was very rough at that time and we were experiencing very strong winds. That evening we had biscuits, tinned meat and tinned fish for dinner, rice cannot be cooked because the sea was so rough. We could not enter the lagoon from the south passage so we had to go around the Island and enter through the north passage. We finally entered the Funafuti lagoon at about 20 hours (about 8 p.m.) through the north passage and dropped anchor about half a mile north of the usual anchorage at Vaiaku. Throughout the night, strong winds and rough seas continued.
The next morning, Saturday the 21st of October, 1972, there was a mist. The sea was still rough with strong winds. The clouds were noticed to be very low. During he day the deck hands double checked all the lashings on the 44 gallon drums of kerosene, lubricating oil and petrol. As it was a Saturday we did not do much and after the ship had been cleared by Customs and Immigration, our chief engineer who was an Australian, told me if I was to go ashore and see my parents. I told him if we moved nearer the land, then I would go ashore. I had no idea whatsoever that at that very evening we would be struck by a hurricane.
That evening, we were listening with some friends to a programme from Radio Tarawa. The song that was on the radio then was a Tuvaluan song namely: "Tolu fou nei" from the island of Nui. The song was about half way through when it stopped. We found out later that it was at that very moment that all the antennas, including the ship's wireless antenna had all been blown down by the wind. A second later, a big wave crashed through my porthole. My clothes were in the drawers of my bunk, which were only a couple of inches from the floor. My cabin was flooded about a foot of water. My friends were enjoying he sight of flooding in my cabin, with all my clothing's and other belongs all wet. Suddenly, the bridge night watchman knocked on my door, and informed me that the captain wanted the main engine started. It was just after 20.00 hrs and I was then the duty engineer from 20.00 - 24.00 hrs.
With my wet clothing's still on, I rushed down to the engine. I found the greaser was already in the engine room. Using sign language I told him that the Captain wanted the engine started. He replied it was ready and I told him to open the starting air to main engine. Once the air was opened, the main engine was immediately on stand by. I informed the Captain on the bridge that the engine was on stand by. Bridge immediately sent an order for slow ahead, followed seconds lager by half-ahead and full-ahead. I responded to the order immediately, but I was not sure whether our anchors had already been pulled in or not. While I was gradually increasing engine speed, bridge double rung the telegraph. This meant bridge needed more power. While responding to these orders the chief engineer arrived and told me to give him the engine controls while I logged the engine movements. I did not know then that while the engine was going flat out going ahead, both anchors were down and the ship was dragging backwards by the wind. We were right in the centre of the hurricane.
It was then the chief engineer told me whether I had ever experienced a hurricane to which I said no. Then he told me that we were right in the middle of the eye of a hurricane, and added that they had contacted ashore to walky-talky and that my parents and family were alright. Suddenly there was a big bang and looking upwards we saw the skylight above the engine room blown away, with glasses all over the place and we were looking right towards the sky. We were standing just a couple of feet from the main engine but we almost could not hear the noise from it as the noise of hurricane and thunder from outside were much louder. At times, the chief engineer had to leave the engine room to be with his wife and to bail water out of his cabin which he said was flooded. At one point after 22.00 hrs, the chief engineer was down the engine room while I went up for a break. I was called by our Supercargo to the steering compartment. On reaching there I found the ship's rudder-stock had worked its way loose, and it had started falling off. I rigged a chain block and pulled it back to its original place and left the block there holding it.
On Sunday the 22nd October we still could not see the island because of the mist but we could see that the mother ship the "Van Camp No.1" had grounded. At this stage we could not see the ship but only waves pounding on it. It was not until Monday 23rd October that it was clear that we saw how badly the island was struck. We were in the lagoon and it seemed that the ship was higher than the island, and we could see ocean side waves breaking on the reefs from the bridge of M.V. "Moanaraoi".
STORY BY: IANUALI TEASI
On Saturday 21st October, about 3 p.m., we were at our house, and I noticed the wind was getting really strong. We then heard news of the airfield being flooded. I told my children to go and bring our pigs from the other side of the airfield. I tied our house with ropes onto a coconut tree in an effort to secure it from the wind which was increasing in force. Tree tops were almost touching the ground. The force of the wind was becoming destructive. My wife took our children also and Apikaila, and ran off to Penitala's house. I stayed with my son Sakalia in my house. The wind, by then, had changed to Southwest. I estimated the force of the wind to be around 65 - 85 miles an hour. I finally told Sakalia that we should move to the store next door for shelter.
The time was after 6 p.m. when we were standing at the main door of the Funafuti store. I saw the roof was beginning to come off. In a matter of minutes the house came down with empty drums flying towards my house and towards Pese's house which was not far from my house. The lightning flashed and I saw its base came right down near where we were hiding. I was surprised to see the clouds floating very close to the ground. I took my son's hand and we ran to the other side of the store while lightning and thunder kept on going. I was once a meteorological observer and so I could easily tell that the force of the hurricane was around 160 miles an hour.
The rest of our family were at Penitala's place, so we left the store and with many obstacles on the way, we managed to get to Penitala's house and found them there. There were lots of people in the house, all busy bailing water out. I left Sakalia with my wife and I went back to see my own house. At the flashing of lightning I could see one ship was on the reef. I was quite thirsty then, and suddenly I remembered the store had collapsed. I immediately made my way to the store and helped myself with two soft drinks and a SAO biscuit before resuming direction to my house. When I reached my house it has already collapsed. I saw people carrying away stuff from the store. I was a member of the store's Committee and so I tried to stop them from carrying away the items but nobody would listen. Mrs. Tutasi's husband, Mr Keith MacDonald, went to get a policeman to come to stop people from carrying things away from the store but in vain. I suggested to Keith MacDonald that we should try to put up a temporary shed for storing goods from the store, but Keith said that people were busy with other immediate work to be done and had no time to attend to my suggestion. We went to where my father and mother-in-law were and built a temporary house for us to stay. We stayed there until the time when the tents were brought in. Tents were erected to shelter the people. We also received a tent for our family to live in. We thank God for saving us.
STORY BY: KEITH MacDONALD
Have you ever lived on a remote atoll island? I was fortunate to have that privilege and particularly so since I am married to a Tuvaluan lady called Tutasi Pasefika. I arrived in Funafuti in late March of 1972 (Funafuti was then the second centre of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony and is now capital of Tuvalu), together with my wife Tutasi, and two children, Denis two years and Kathleen three years old. There are of course many problems living on a remote island, just as there are living in a big city but all in all they do not seem to matter as much, and you seem to get over them especially when a ship finally arrives. The months went by with myself and the family settling in quite nicely, in fact as October came around, we were beginning to think of Christmas. We had no idea whatsoever that nature had a big surprise lined up for us, something that none of us on the island knew anything about.
I have, of course read about Hurricane, the glassy sea, the copper sky, and little or no wind; that in itself is a warning, but no one was ever aware of those pre-Hurricane signs. October 19th was a day of intermittent rain from the east, normal and cool. Friday 20th saw it rain heavily all day and night with the wind from the south. One source of cheer was the arrival of the "Moanaraoi" from Suva with all sorts of supplies. Due to the fact that the lagoon was rough, no one loading was attempted, so the "Moanaraoi" anchored peacefully. There were three other ships in the lagoon belonging to the Van Camp Fisheries. These three ships were in our waters during a fishing survey. On Saturday 21st, rain was pouring heavily. At about 10 a.m. the rain poured and so I went down to the airfield to see if the fortnightly plane from Suva was coming. One look at the airstrip was enough to see that there would be no plane arriving this day; it was flooded; the wind had changed direction, now coming in from the south-west blowing real hard.
At about half-past five in the afternoon, I was working on the roof of a house, when the officer-in-charge of the New Zealand Met. Station came past and told me that the Funafuti area had been put on a Gale warning. I decided then to anchor a few things around that house and went home to do work on strengthening of my house. The New Zealand Met. chief Bruce Dowie came past our house and told us the grim news that we were now on a Hurricane warning! Hell a Hurricane; is it really going to be a Hurricane. Who has had the experience of being in a Hurricane. Certainly not me. The wind was now coming across the lagoon due west, so after closing all the doors and shutters on the west side, I went inside and found that the people from next door had come in for the protection of my father-in-law's house. This house is unlike 90% of the village houses. It was built of concrete block, with concrete beams and columns. Several of the roof sheets on the west side of the house started to rattle, so I went up on the roof with Koloa, my brother-in-law, to try and nail them down. We had to crawl across the roof to do the job. It was very dangerous as there were many objects flying through the air, but fortunately we managed to fix the roof. Thunder, lightning and the shrieking wind made it difficult to talk.
Tea and navy bread was served; some of the people were playing cards by the light of a kerosene lamp, the electric power had gone off. Every now and then a loud clump would signal the downfall of another coconut tree. The eventual number of coconut tree down was roughly about 65-80 per cent. The wind eventually found the weakness in the house; we had recently built an upstairs section on top of the verandah roof which was concrete, this was on the western side and was built with concrete blocks but with no beams, it fell apart and roof from this section fell on the main roof and was blown over the back of the house. As far as we were concerned, this was the straw that broke the camel's back. We decided, quite wrongly as it turned out, that the whole house was about to collapse and we had to move out to find a safer place.
We maybe accused of panicking but at no stage did I see any signs of panic. We were very frightened, and I remember saying to myself, "What do I do now?" Most of the time the people were laughing, joking, talking, sleeping and you guessed it, playing cards. We decided we should leave the house. Leaving the house from the back door on the east side was easy, the lightning was fairly constant and you could see that there was hardly anything standing, but now the wind was pushing us and it was very difficult to keep on your feet. In fact, one of the girls was picked up and thrown four or five yards. I was carrying my daughter inside my raincoat, and I became aware of a scream louder than the wind, it was Kathleen who had woken from a deep sleep and now she was beginning to be very scared. I talked to her as best as I could, persuading her to be calm and she stopped screaming but was sobbing bitterly. The progress was very slow but after about 20 minutes we were guided into the shelter of a water cistern which was up out of the ground about 5 feet, here we found another 20 odd people. It was now very cold and we needed somewhere better to shelter, so two of the people with flashlights went off to look for better shelters.
Within minutes they were back having found the complete roof from one of the wartime American buildings sitting right on the ground. We all moved out and in a short time we were in under The roof and out of the rain and here the noise from outside was lower and much better. The children were soon asleep and in fact I also went to sleep with Kathleen in my arms. A kerosene lamp had been salvaged and soon the cards were produced, with many of the people playing most of the night. When I finally woke up it was daylight and that the hurricane had passed us by. All looked well. One lady was boiling water for tea. I went out to see what was what, the first thing I saw of course was the almost complete destruction. It was very sad to see those wonderful coconut trees lying flat on the ground. I went down to the lagoon, and there was the "Moanaraoi" looking none the worse for her ordeal, the story of this brave ship is another story, and the crew should have been rewarded for bravery.
Moving down to the beach I then saw that the three Van Camp ships were high and dry on the shore of the lagoon in various places. The M.V. "Moanaraoi" was very lucky and that meant we would have food and some way of letting the world know of our troubles, as by then one of the New Zealand met. workers had told me that all our Radios were wrecked together with the power station. I then walked down to the Met. houses and found that while we were having our fight with the wind, the met. personnel had a hopeless battle with a tidal wave that swept three buildings away and wrecked many other buildings on the ocean side of the Island. Tragedy went hand in hand with destruction, for both Victor Ariyan and Vaekau Filemoni lost their lives when swept away by the tidal wave. Mr Peifaga Pita's grandchild, a 3 month old baby, was also a victim of the tidal wave, swept from a house next door to the Meteorological Station. There were two sailors from the ships that were wrecked were drowned. Five victims were grim total to pay. There were not many serious injuries apart from a few cuts and bruises.
Later on that Sunday morning, "Moanaraoi" received a message to say that a plane was on its way and would arrive on Monday, and that meant we would have to clear the airstrip for it was covered with all kinds of debris. The people were asked to go down and clear it up. The work was carried out with everybody able to work were all on the site doing their part. It was fun and everyone enjoyed working in a large team, encouraged by the news of items to be brought in by the planes for their use. The airstrip was cleared in a very short time. The New Zealand Orion came over on Monday, dropped some supplies and took pictures. That night I would say we all went to bed happy in the knowledge that the outside world had been made aware of the situation in Funafuti, and without doubt were all preparing to provide help for the people.
(Keith MacDonald died in 1986. He wrote this short story just after the hurricane, long before the people of the Island decided to write a book about Hurricane Bebe).
STORY BY: KAUA OMELI
This is the story of my recollections regarding the Hurricane. I can still vividly recall that day in October 1972. Our relatives from Ocean Island have just arrived then after years of working with the Phosphate Company. A few days before the Hurricane, our father Omeli asked us to go fishing to get fish for a feast with our new arrivals. While we were out fishing in the lagoon side I noticed that the weather was beginning to get worse.
Again, on Saturday 21st October, my father sent us to go net fishing and so we went to the northern end of the island to the place called Asagataupaka. The wind then was getting really fierce. When we reached our fishing ground, I noticed the sea at the ocean side was incredibly high, whereas the lagoon side was quite low. I have never seen such a sight before where the level of the sea at the ocean side and the lagoon were so different. At about 10.30 a.m. we returned to the village. On our way back, we found that the wind had already blown trees down, the road was packed with fallen trees and thus it was difficult for us to move any faster. We reached home at about 12 midday. I told my father about the wind and the sea level, and he simply said "Why is the wind blowing hard?" I told him that the roof of our house was gone, then he said, "Oh! this may be the end of the world. It had been predicted by the Seventh Day Adventist". At about three o'clock on that afternoon, we heard news that the airfield was flooded. We went with my brother Pauna to see for ourselves and we were quite astonished to see the airfield becoming like a small lake.
When we returned to our house it was not there. It has been blown away. My father asked me to go and look for our grandfather Anitelea. I reached Manase's place and they said that grandpa and Finiki had gone to stay at Pasefika's place. He believed that Pasefika's place was strong enough to shelter the two old men. Earlier in the day, at about ten o'clock in the morning, our family had already moved to Isaia and Seuseula's house. I went to see my other grand folks Kaitu and Mesepa, and found them in Elisaia's house. I told them that they should move to the pastor's house which was much stronger. The old man Kaitu was not convinced. He asked me how bad the wind was expected to be. I told him about the strong wind warnings from the police and weather stations, but he said we had no faith.
At about seven o'clock, the wind had increased tremendously. Kaitu said normally after the lightning and thunder the wind would subside. That was an old belief that when storm strikes, and when there is thunder and lightning people would say the storm would soon subside. I forced my grandparents Kaitu and Mesepa, together with their grandchildren Taoa and Filifau, to go to Siaosi's house. Siaosi's house was concrete and should be quite strong. I went back to fetch my other grandmother Aloima. When I picked her up, she was holding a biscuit which was from Ocean Island. I went to check our house and found it has been blown down. I went immediately after that to another old man, he was Mose and alone. I took him in to Siaosi's place. I went to check Kilita Nokisi and I found her with her two kids, Taoa and Filifau. I told Kilita we were moving to a stronger shelter. I carried one child and Lipua carried the other. I tied a sheet around me and told Kilita to hold on to the sheet. We were halfway when something hit me in the back and the sheet fell off. Mrs. Kilita Nokisi was not far from me.
An aluminum boat belonging to Polau Febuali hit Kilita, and because it was dark I can only hear her calling out to me and her children. We finally managed to get to the Pastor's house, Reverend Morikao Kaua. There were lots of people in the house. I went on from there to look for my father and the rest of my family. When I got to the Church Secretary's house, Reverend Iosia Taomia, I saw my father who asked me to go and look for the two old men of the family at Manase's house. I got to Mnanase's house and they told me they were at Pasefika's house. I got to Pasefika's house and found the two old men in good health. They told me when the top half collapsed, they all ran away and left them. They have been safe all throughout the night.
I noticed they were all right so I left them to look for other relatives. I was thankful to Almighty God that we were alive. What happened throughout the night was so scary, dangerous, and could have been the end of the island and everyone on it. But God was merciful and allowed us to endure the ordeal. On that Sunday morning the wind had calmed down. We heard that Mr. Vaekau Filemoni was missing, so everybody went to look for him. The Indian technician Mr. Ariyan was also missing. There were also casualties from the ship's crew. There were actually not many casualties compared to the devastation that was caused.
Funafuti Lagoon, Tuvalu - 2003
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