By Pesi Fonua
Eleven people on Pangaimotu Island climbed into fau trees when tsunamis ripped through the low-lying atoll coast on January 15, following the massive explosion of the Hunga volcano.
Big Mama (‘Ana Emberson) said she saw smoke rising from the volcano, located about 65 km from the NSN from Pangaimotu, where the Embersons run day trips and have established a Mabé pearl farm.
When a loud bang came from the volcano, her son Andrew, along with another man, Lea, ran to catch their ferry to the east side of the small island. But as they left the wharf, Andrew saw the waves crashing from the tsunami coming and shouted, “Run! “.
Big Mama said she shouted for everyone to run to the cross, a monument marking the arrival of the first Catholic missionaries in Tonga.
From La Croix, five adults and four children headed for their vanilla plantation, a little high up.
‘Ana said the wave seemed taller and more powerful than she thought.
The fau tree is next to the vanilla garden, only a few meters above sea level. reach of the tsunami waves.
She got a call from the ferry that they were back on station. Lea was on a roof and Andrew had climbed another fau tree. She told Lea to stay where they were and head to the vanilla garden once the waves from the tsunami calmed down a bit.
At this point, the sea was rising near the foot of the fau tree where Big Mama, Pangia, their staff, and their children were perched.
I slept in the open with ash falls
After the tsunami, the boys picked up three pieces of tarp and two chairs. They put two pieces of tarpaulin on the ground for sitting and lying down, and the other piece for shelter. They left the two chairs outside and turned the group around after lying down for a while to sit on the chairs for a while.
The 11 people who were in Pangaimotu on Saturday evening were: “Ana, her husband Pangia Emberson, their son Andrew Emberson, with staff Lea, Mele, and Saia and Leini and their four children.
After midnight, a friend, Hauoli, rang and Big Mama asked him to call Naisa, police officer, to call him. Police made contact with them around 2 a.m., and then early Sunday morning they were the first to be rescued by search and rescue boats from the islands closest to Nuku’alofa.
Big Mama said that Pangia didn’t want to leave Pangaimotu, fearing looters, so they decided to stay on the island to search for their belongings, while the rest of the group left for Nuku’alofa.
Sunday night (January 16) was difficult, “everything that fell to the ground, he was up. The dog barks, he was standing. When the waves crashed, it was automatic – he sat up to see if the sea was rising. It was Sunday night! she said.
Big Mama’s Blue Lagoon Mabé Pearls, a company that cultivates quality Mabé pearls that are exported to Hawaii for jewelry making.
Pangia said they had lost all their Mabé pearls which had been harvested and were ready for export.
Pangia and ‘Ana finally left Pangaimotu for Nuku’alofa on Monday morning January 17, after realizing that they had lost all their belongings in the sea and there was nothing left to recover.
The only house still standing on Pangimotu was the old house recently renovated by ‘Alo Fe’iloakitau and his wife Tricia. ‘Alo was in Nuku’alofa and Tricia was in Australia when the tsunamis hit the island.
Although the mainframe of the house withstood the tsunami, the wave entered through the front door and exited out the back, destroying most of its contents. The water tank and outbuildings were also destroyed by the waves.
The boys cleaning up, however, found a few misplaced beer bottles among the fallen coconuts.