A Queenstowner credits his quick-thinking wife for saving his family’s lives during last week’s devastating tsunami in Samoa.
Bill and Penny Sheehy and their two youngest, Alice, 18, and Jacob, 14, felt the earthquake rock their Lalomanu beachfront resort last Tuesday morning.
Bill says the quake wasn’t as strong as some he’d felt in Queenstown.
“But my wife said when you’re near a beach and there’s an earthquake, a tsunami could follow.”
Meantime, other resort guests on the restaurant balcony watched water disappear from a reef – a tell-tale tsunami sign – about 100m offshore.
Grabbing only a few clothes, the Sheehy family ran for their lives for high ground.
They reached safety on a short cliff face about 60m behind their resort with only seconds to spare, Bill says.
“It was like a wall of water was following us across the road.”
They’d escaped one of the tsunami’s worst-hit areas where more than 40 people perished – including 13 members of the extended Taufua family who ran the beachfront resort they’d stayed at, many of whom they’d met over the three previous days.
“One can’t underestimate the death and destruction,” Bill says.
“We were absolutely fortunate – thank God for the heads-up from Penny.”
Their barely recognisable rental car ended up about 600m from where it was parked, Bill adds.
On their way to a temporary shelter on higher ground, Bill says his family gave away some of their spare clothes to help others.
Already traumatised, the Sheehys suffered an even greater shock late afternoon the same day.
They were back on Lalomanu Beach, near their devastated resort, when a warning went out another tsunami was on the way – “mass panic set in”.
This time they had about 100m to go to high ground, much of it across a metre-deep “cesspit full of debris”.
“We were in trouble if the tsunami came because it seemed to take forever to get through the swamp.”
This time the alert was a false alarm but the Sheehys all suffered scrapes and cuts to their legs.
They were taken by a ute for treatment at Apia hospital before being put up at the New Zealand High Commissioner’s house in the Samoan capital.
Next evening they flew out to NZ after getting replacement airline tickets and waivers for their passports, which were lost.
Back in Queenstown, Bill says his family have been “overwhelmed by the generosity and goodwill of local people – we will be eternally grateful”.
“We are just survivors of the tsunami, not victims – our hearts go out to those who lost family and friends, and to the Samoan community.”
He’s also pledging to assist the Taufua family – other locals who’d like to help are welcome to contact him, he says.