Surfing the Tsunami: A Story of Survival

In 2009, an earthquake and tsunami caught the Samoan Islands in the Pacific off guard. Almost 200 people were killed and over 40 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.5 or higher were recorded. Fortunately, most people survived the tsunami and each of them had their own story to tell. There was even one who surfed his way to survival and lived to tell the tale. His name is Chris Nel and this is his story.

What Happened in the Samoan Tsunami?

The 2009 Samoan tsunami happened on September 29, 2009 and affected American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga. It started with an earthquake that registered a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale. Because of the earthquake, a tsunami was generated and waves measured as high as 45 feet on the Samoan coast. The Samoan Islands are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it very susceptible to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. More than 189 people were killed in the tsunami.

Who is Chris Nel?

One of the survivors of the tsunami was Chris Nel, a surfer from Wellington, New Zealand. Nel is a Hospitality student who was on a surfing holiday on the south coast of the Savai'i island. He had been surfing with four other surfers from New Zealand and one from Australia when the tsunami appeared. According to his tsunami story, he went out with his friends early in the morning to surf. They then felt a tremor while surfing, but they did not pay heed to that because they always felt tremors in New Zealand. They continued surfing, but noticed changes in the water. He said, "All of a sudden the water went really weird, it kind of glassed off and got really lumpy, then we started moving really quick, getting sucked out to sea." He said that he saw the reef completely drying up, like a volcanic riverbed, before seeing the tsunami hitting the shore.

How did Chris Nel Survive the Tsunami?

When Nel and his friends saw giant waves hitting the shore, they did not fully realize that it was a tsunami that they were seeing. They even wondered why no one was helping them, before realizing that everyone else had already evacuated and moved to higher grounds. What Nel and his friends did was lay on their surfboards as the wave after wave came. They tried in vain to reach the shore by riding the waves that came to them and tried not to get smashed. They went like that for about 45 minutes before they managed to get to land through the reef channel. They survived the ordeal, although the place where they were staying did not. Most of Nel's stuff got washed out at sea and he even found one of his surfboards in the jungle.

What Happened to the Tsunami's Aftermath?

The international community extended help to the victims of the Samoan earthquake and tsunami. New Zealand sent medical supplies and relief goods and also dispatched surveillance aircraft to assess the damage and search for bodies. The United States, Canada, and Australia also sent help where it was needed. As much as 40 aftershocks came after 48 hours of the earthquake. Most of them had a magnitude of 5.0 and higher, while two aftershocks registered with a magnitude of 6.0 and higher. As for Nel, he flew back to Wellington using jeans he had found in the jungle.

Aside from the Samoan tsunami, there have been many earthquakes and tsunamis recorded throughout the history of the Earth that had even more casualties than this one. In every incident, there are also survivors who were able to tell their stories that continue to inspire us. The tsunami story of Chris Nel and his friends was a story of survival in the face of the deep blue sea. They were lucky enough to have survived the ordeal.

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