Tsunami Survivors from Christchurch Share their Road to Recovery

"You need to talk about it. But you have to talk about it with people who were here.

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29 September 2019 South East Coast, Samoa. Wendy Pearce was traveling with three friends from Melbourne Australia, staying at Litia Sini’s in the South East Coast of Upolu when an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale triggered 4.5m tidal waves to hit the shores of Lalomanu beach at around 6.48am in the morning of 29 September 2009.

The tsunami waves brought devastation to local residents and tourists with the loss of life reaching 149 for Samoa. Wendy and her friends were amongst the survivors.

Wendy says her mental and psychological recovery from the 2009 tsunami was not easy but she found it most helpful to talk about it with those who had experienced it.

Wendy Pearce reflects during this morning’s memorial service.

“You need to talk about it. But you have to talk about it with people who were here. Like my husband for example. He wasn’t here, and it’s no good talking to people that weren’t here because they just don’t fully understand what we went through”.

Wendy says that the four of them who’d survived were friends who had travelled from Churstchurch. They got in touch with another couple from Churstchurch who had survived the tsunami, and together they formed a support group.

“I called everyone in for a pot luck dinner and that’s how it started. We used to meet every month because we had to talk about it with others who were here;

“Honestly, you don’t sleep at night. You wake up. I used to wake and cry, and think about that body and that body and that body;

“So you know you gotta go to the doctor and you have to get sleeping pills because you’d just go crazy with the nightmares”.

“My mother told me after a month that I should get off the sleeping pills but she just had no idea”.

Wendy says coming back to Samoa has helped a lot wirh the healing process.

She pays tribute to the Taufua family who continue to look after their guests despite their own loss of 15 family members including children and their 90 year old father.

Some members of the Taufua family – “they were absolutely amazing”.

“The Taufua family were absolutely amazing, and the Sini family next door. On the day, even though they lost everything, they looked after us so well;

“Today I’m part of the neighbourhood. I walk up to the shop and they say, G’day Wendy!”.

Wendy had befriended Vicky the night before the 2009 tsunami. Vicky had travelled from Sydney to holiday in Samoa.

“She was travelling alone so we invited her to join us”.

Vicky sustained serious injuries and was off work for quite some time after the tsunami. Vicky says that as part of her recovery, she flew to Christchurch to spend time with Wendy and the support group of survivors.

Vicky (left) and Wendy look on as families place flowers in the ocean.

“It was hard for me because I was all alone. I flew to Christchurch and spent a week there. And I’ve also been back to Samoa a few times. Not as many times as Wendy,” says Vicky with a smile.

Many survivors never wanted to be near the ocean again, but Wendy has not missed a single anniversary, returning to Lalomanu every year, bringing many of her friends with her.

“This is my 26th trip to Samoa! I come for the anniversary of the tsunami but I also come to Samoa in June every year. I bring a group of girlfriends with me;

“Whenever someone asks, ‘why do you go to Samoa?’ – I say, ‘Come with me and see for yourself'”;

“I absolutely love it here;

“Tourists can’t come stop coming to Lalomanu incase there’s a tsunami, the same way people can’t stop going to Christchurch incase there’s an earthquake,” says Wendy.

Beautiful Lalomanu beach

Sina Retzlaff