Tsunami in Tonga
30 September 2009 | Vava'u, Tonga
We were woken up Wednesday morning to the sounds of excited voices on the VHF radio, which we leave on at night for emergencies. As the morning "net" started at 830am, it was clear that something big had happened. An 8.0 earthquake between Samoa and American Samoa had set off tsunami alerts across the region and the first reports were beginning to filter in. The Vava'u Island Group is a disorganized smattering of islands, with the northern area more protected than the south. Those boats in the coral anchorages to the South reported tidal changes of 2 meters or more, often exposing reef areas that, according to the locals, have *never* been exposed. Water would rush in and out of these areas in 10-15 minute cycles, creating 3-5 knot currents. Most boats avoided damage, but a few got scratched up against reefs in the swirling water.
Follow You was tied to a mooring ball in Neiafu Bay, which is 6 miles up a long fjord-like passage. Thus, we did not see near the tidal swings that the South anchorages experienced. I noted several ups and downs, but all were less than half a meter, which is less that of the normal tidal range.
Later that morning, Tonga police loudspeakers announced the Tsunami warning and most if not all Tongan-run businesses closed down to allow people to be home with families. There were reports from some of the North facing villages sustained damage, with flooding to some of the schools. Interestingly, Rina had just visited some of these low-lying schools as part of a group of "Palongi" women who helped the local dentist teach the kids how to brush their teeth while the dentist lined the kids up and checked their teeth. In some cases, he did extractions right on the spot.
As the day progressed, reports from Samoa and Niuatoputapu filtered in via the SSB nets. While most boats survived, several were pushed ashore in Pago Pago, Samoa and at least one cruiser perished after being swept off the docks trying to get to his boat and out to sea. Niuatoputapu is a very low-lying island north of Vavau and there were reports of 8-10 fatalities among the very small community that is popular with cruisers.
Updates continue today, and are now making their way into print... Some resources
First hand Report from sv Gallivanter via Latitude
Lots of pictures and updates via the New Zealand Herald
Follow You remains safely moored where we are preparing for our passage to New Zealand in mid October....
We've also been working on our sailing plans for 2010 and will have some news to share shortly....