It is now 12 months since the catastrophic tsunami hit Japan.
It was on that day 12 months ago that we took our sons to the beach for the weekend. We often go to the beach in March (and here we are again, same time, same place). We arrived after dinner that Friday evening, picked up our keys for our cabin from the envelope in the mail box at the reception of the caravan park. The reception area was closed and there were a number of people looking for their envelopes in the mail box.
I began to unpack for the weekend in our cabin by the edge of the sea. My unpacking did not last long. Before we had left Canberra, Jorge had heard that there had been an earthquake off the coast of Japan but we had not listened to the radio during our drive to the coast (about two hours). He turned on the television almost as soon as we entered the cabin.
There it was. The tsunami. I have been in a tsunami but I had never seen one before. I did not see the tsunami in Samoa. I did not see it coming. I did not know what it looked like. And here it was before me. Now, I knew what a tsunami looked like. The footage was brutal and shocking. I imagined the people running, as we ran, from the tsunami. I knew they would not make it. I know how hard it is to run from such a force which devours everything in its path. It is a monster with teeth as one of my sons once described it.
The broadcast said that a tsunami warning had been issued for the entire Pacific Ocean basin including Australia. We were on the Australian east coast. I wanted to leave. I told Jorge that I wanted to leave. He said we should watch and see. Jordi and Omar were terrified. They stared at the television saying that they did not want to be in another tsunami. They did not want to die in a tsunami.
Jorge tried to occupy them by suggesting that they go to the children’s park. Jordi went with him but Omar sat next to me on the lounge, eyes glued to the television screen. Jorge and Jordi were not away long. It was too hard for them to pretend that they weren’t scared.
The reception was closed. How would someone tell us to leave? Did they have a warning system? There was no warning system in Samoa. I wasn’t confident that there would be one on this beach either. I had this desire to get in the car and drive as far from the beach as possible.
We managed to calm the boys down, bathe them, read to them and put them to bed. Jorge and I watched the television. Finally, the tsunami warning was lifted for the southern Pacific. Jorge did not sleep until 1am.
The next morning, the boys woke to say that there had been no tsunami. No fear. No panic. No shock.
We went to reception to book the tennis courts for later in the day. All I wanted to ask was what would they have done if the caravan park had had to be evacuated? How would they have told us when the reception centre was closed and there was no one around?
No one else in that caravan park would have been concerned about the tsunami warning. No one else would have experienced what we had experienced in a tsunami. They would have eaten their dinner, watched the images and chatted about how awful it looked but at the same time mesmerised by the incredible power of the water.
Now I know, and many people know, what a tsunami looks like and what force and devastation it unleashes. At least, people will not ask me whether my daughter could swim because I saw no swimming in Japan, or in Samoa.
As we drove to get some groceries from the local corner shop, I heard an interview on the radio. A woman had been holding her daughter’s hand and had lost her. A woman like me who will have to live for the rest of her life without her daughter, knowing that she had not been able to hang onto her hand; knowing that you are powerless in the face of such force. I am certain that woman suffers the same as I do and I am certain she will never ‘recover’ from such an event. I will think of her today; for the past 52 weeks of her life. It is now 127 weeks since the Samoan tsunami.