At 6:48 a.m. on Sept. 29, 2009, a massive 8.3 magnitude earthquake strikes midway between Samoa and American Samoa in the South Pacific.
Approximately 120 miles from the quake’s epicenter, a group of boaters docked in Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa are trying to make sense of the strange phenomenon taking place around them.
Wayne Hodges tells the others that he heard and felt a strange thrumming that he couldn’t quite identify. He estimates that the uncanny vibration lasted about three minutes. Soon another boater joins the group, announcing that he just checked the Internet and learned that there was a large undersea earthquake in the region nearly 20 minutes ago. As the conversation winds down and the cruisers disperse, one of them quips, “Watch out for a big wave.”
Moments later things turn more bizarre. As Hodges is about to step aboard his boat, it drops out from under him. The dock lines strain and screech under the load of the falling boat, eliciting a hum like guitar strings being overly tightened. The sound is amplified by other boats simultaneously experiencing the same ordeal as lines snap and cleats give way. Added to the cacophony is a peculiar sucking noise from the receding water. Hodges instinctively jumps aboard his boat and struggles to gain footing. Seconds later he looks down and is aghast to see...mud? The entire bay has been emptied of water.
Things get eerily silent. But it’s an ominous quiet. And it’s short-lived.
Tsunami! A thunderous flood of seawater re-enters the bay. Hodges sees some of the boaters running for a light post on an elevated section of the wharf. Another cruiser is standing on the dock feverishly trying to untie his lines. As Hodges’ boat rights itself, he unsheathes his knife and cuts the lines, freeing the vessel as it jostles in the rapidly rising, turbulent water. But Hodges’ boat rises up and over the dock, above what was dry land mere seconds ago. He watches in horror as the cruiser trying to undo his lines is swept away by the tsunami (to his death he learns later). The other boaters are clinging for their lives to the light post, climbing it higher and higher as the water rises. They survive.
Hodges starts his engine and miraculously rides the tsunami out, successfully dodging other boats and large debris as he steers for deeper water, where he safely stays for the next three hours as successive tsunami waves come and go.
Hodges lived to boat another day. Many who are caught in a tsunami don’t. What can you do to increase your odds of survival if a tsunami has you in its sights?
1. Seek knowledge. Become tsunami savvy.
2. Act quickly. Be ready to launch a plan of action without hesitation.