Tsunami survivor Pam Buckingham has returned to Queenstown from Samoa on a mission.
She and husband Peter were frantically trying to escape the deadly wave in their Toyota jeep when it struck near their beachfront home in Tafitoala.
They were only saved because their vehicle got pinned against a tree by the giant wall of water that killed 143 people on the island.
“We had picked up an elderly Samoan lady and she was praying out loud as we all held hands in the car,” Buckingham says.
“Peter says it was like someone else took the steering wheel when he drove off the road and into the trees. If he hadn’t done that we would have been swept away.
“He must have had an angel on his shoulder that morning.”
The couple – who shifted to Samoa in 2007 after living in Queenstown for 11 years – lost almost everything when their house took a battering in the September 29 disaster.
Now grandmother-of-two Pam, 59, is back in the resort working at her old job as a sales assistant at Goldfield Jewellers in the CBD.
She’s here for the next few months to raise funds for poverty-stricken island neighbours and earn cash to rebuild their own shattered lives.
“A vegetable garden we had made to sell produce locally was destroyed,” Buckingham says. “Our small fishing boat was also damaged and equipment I used for making postcards was wrecked.
“Basically, everything we need to make a living has gone and needs replaced but fortunately our house is still standing.”
She adds: “I also want to raise money for locals who have been left with next to nothing and need essentials like cooking utensils – pots and pans and those sorts of things.”
Amazingly, no-one was killed when the village was engulfed by the tsunami. “We were lucky because it is on a peninsula which meant the wave swept right through and carried straight on, so there was no back current which caused so much death and destruction in other areas like Lalomanu.”
Buckingham – originally from Balfour in Southland – insists she and Peter will continue to live in Samoa.
“We went to the island because we thought we might have one last big adventure left in us and we have no regrets about the decision,” she says. “What happened has happened, and it’s unlikely something like that would occur again.”