Ten years on, Gizo remembers the tsunami that changed it forever


Ruta Pana

This year marks an important anniversary for the people of Gizo: it is 10 years since the tsunami that changed their lives forever. SIBC reporter Kikiva Tuni visited Titiana village – the village that was flattened by the wave – and spoke to some of the survivors for this special report. 


It is a day Ruta Pana will never forget.

April 2, 2007 – the day an 8.1 magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami that ripped through her home village, Titiana, in Gizo’s Western Province, leaving an estimated 52 people dead.

One of them was her granddaughter.

“She had only turned a year old in January,” she said.  “The tsunami happened and it took her away.”

Gizo after the tsunami

Mrs Pana was in her house when the earthquake struck.

“My children were under the house calling for me to come down. I stayed inside until 20 minutes later, then I went down. We saw the ground cracking everywhere.

“Then we looked up just across the reef and saw the wave begin to form. We were not afraid because it was just in the reef and quite small.

“But then it built up and suddenly it was very high up in the trees. That was when we started to run.”

Children in Titiana today

Mrs Pana’s youngest child was in her arms as they fled.

“We ran for the hills, but the wave reached me as I ran across the road and I fell. It was very strong. I struggled to hold my baby up from the water.

“The wave took us to the other side. Lucky a man came and took my baby away to safety in the hills. I managed to get out, but I had no clothes on. It was the same with the others.”

That night as they took shelter in the bush, Mrs Pana heard her granddaughter was among those missing.

“I was really close to God then”, she said, her voice shaking. “I said God, I am not angry with you. The only thing I want you to do for me is to let me see her body.”

“I want to at least hold her in my hands before I bury her.”

A house rebuilt in Titiana

The next morning, the villagers worked together to search for the missing people.

The first one they found was Mrs Pana’s granddaughter.

“I held her in my arms, dressed her properly and buried her. A lot of people were lost, a lot of children. And they were not found. There was bad smell everywhere.”

Mrs Pana’s thoughts are never far from the big wave of 2007.

The damage in 2007. Photo: ABC

“It was a very traumatic experience. Just last week, we heard reports say that because the weather is hot, we should expect an earthquake.

“But we are now alert. We know what to do.”

Sintau Bobai, a high school teacher was in Gizo town when the wave hit.

He arrived back to the village, usually a 30 minute drive, a few hours after it was destroyed.

“When I arrived, everything was gone. All the houses were down. And there was no one around.

“I later found out that everyone was in the hills.

“So I went to the bush and we stayed there, without a tent and without any help on that first day.

The men of Titiana today

“We looked for our own food, we picked up leftovers that were floating around in the village, including dead pigs.

“We stayed in the bush for the whole year of 2007. We built tents, dismantled our houses in the seaside and built new ones in the bush.”

“Slowly, one or two at first came down to the sea side to build their tents. But the fear was still there. So a lot of people remained in the hills.

“Then in 2009, the people began slowly moving back down to the seaside.

“Now, only two families are living in the hills.

For 55-year-old Pamela Naneseni, adjusting to life in the bush after living by the sea most of her life was difficult.

Pamela Naniseni

“We did not know how to plant cassava or potato then. We are people who depend on the sea.

“We had to ask another local woman to teach us.

“She taught us how to plant cassava stems the right way. As for potato, we thought all we had to do was plant them straight into the ground. When we harvested them, the fruits were so small.

“The woman taught us to wind the stems together first before planting them.

“So we slowly adjusted to life in the bush.”

The flooding in 2007. Picture: ABC Australia

But the Titiana people have always lived by the sea and depended on it for survival.

“We had to come back to the sea side,” Mrs Naniseni said, looking across the sea.

“It is where we want to stay. Even if there is a big wind or heavy rain, we still want to stay.”

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