Survivors of Tidal Wave Mourn Dead
Jul. 21, 1998
VANIMO, Papua New Guinea (AP) _ Fabian Tombre was relaxing on the white beach outside his home in the village of Arop when he felt the earth shake. A few minutes later, a giant wave of water hit his village ``like a bomb.''
Stripped naked by the rushing ocean and with his chest cut raw by coral, he swam to safety. One of his five children, a son, was found hanging _ alive _ from a mangrove tree, dangling from a nail that had lodged in his chest. Tombre's other children, and his wife, were killed.
``For three nights I was crying,'' Tombre told The Associated Press today through an interpreter. ``I am still sad.''
As the victims of Papua New Guinea's devastating tsunami make their way back from the jungle into which they were thrown, the stories of their survival _ and their loss _ unfold.
Tombre said survivors buried 200 people Saturday, a day after the series of three deadly waves hit the island. ``We had to pull them out from the broken trees. We buried them in the sand,'' he said.
Clara Atrakai was cooking dinner for her husband and three children at their home in Arop when she felt the rumble of the magnitude-7 undersea earthquake that set off the tsunami.
``When I turned around I saw the big waves come. Me, my husband and children started running. When it came on us we just stood and were carried away.''
That moment was the last time she saw her husband and 2-year-old son.
She was swept into a mangrove tree. Hearing children crying for their mother, she searched and found her baby daughter and 5-year-old son, who had been thrown into the same tree.
In the dark, they swam more than a mile across the debris- and corpse-littered lagoon to reach dry land.
Fabian Nakinsony, from the village of Warapu, which like Arop borders the Sissano lagoon, said he was fishing in his canoe when a rumbling sound ``like war planes'' drew people onto the beach from their houses.
``The water was boiling and I saw the waves coming quick,'' he said.
Within two minutes, the first and tallest of the three waves _ ``as tall as that coconut tree'' _ crashed over the village. The second swept away people and buildings.
``The current was so strong it pushed the canoe like a speedboat,'' Nakinsony said. He was thrown out of the tiny boat and into the mangroves, where a root pierced his leg.
``People rolled and rolled in the wave. Some died straight away, others were injured and calling for help.
``After it happened the waves went slowly back into the sea and it looked like nothing happened. The beach was new sand. Except no houses,'' he said.
The morning after, survivors tried to rescue villagers cast into the sea or lagoon. Many who had spent the night swimming or treading water finally died when they were taken back to dry land.
Nakinsony's entire family was thrown into the lagoon. His 1-year-old son Aaron died; three others survived.