Woman clings to tree as tsunami washes through
LEPA, Samoa - Kalolo Punefu, is a fortunate woman, her husband and her 13 children all survived the tsunami.
Mrs Punefu, a school teacher, was walking to school when the tsunami hit her village.
"I ran to the closest big tree and hugged it because it was too late for me to run up the hill," she said.
Mrs Punefu said she was underwater for close to a minute while the tsunami ripped through the village of Lepa.
"I held firmly to the tree despite the strong wave hitting me on the back and on my head, I prayed to God to save me,"she said.
She screamed, and then held her breath for the duration she was under water.
Mrs Punefu said the screams of the villagers and the loud bangs as the water shifted cars, uprooted houses, and carried large boulders was unbearable.
"I did not think I was going to live."
Mrs Punefu said she was prepared for the return of the wave once it hit the cliff behind her village.
"The wave did not return, as it re-diverted to the river canyon," she said.
Thus Mrs Punefu was saved.
But while holding on for dear life, all she could think about was her 13 children, some preparing for school, others at home and two at work.
"I did not care if I lost my life, all I hoped that all my children were safe," she said.
Meanwhile her husband Pamata, the village mayor, was in Apia for meeting.
After the wave retreated, Mrs Punefu ran to where her home used to be, to discover it was no longer there.
"I ran up to the school to find that my younger children were all there, saved by neighbours and some already at the school when the wave hit," she said.
"My husband was frantically calling from Apia, and could not reach us; he came a few hours later to find us at the refuge school."
Mrs Punefu is thankful all her children survived, but mourns the loss of relatives and friends from neighbouring villages.
"For the lives of my children, I am thankful for," she said.
The family is now staying at the Lepa Primary School, which is the refuge for all who have been left homeless by the tsunami in her village.
Asked about what they need Mrs Punefu: "The generosity of the people has just been amazing, but all I ask for are pots and pans as I need to cook the food they gave us."
Mrs Punefu says she and her husband have not even begun to think about building a new home.
"We don't care where we live, we are alive and that is all that matters."