Disaster Strikes

I’ve been way behind on the blogs – there are so many in my head that I’ve been wanting to write when time allowed, but now I’m having to write the one blog I didn’t want to write…

We’d finally got to the point where most of the major work was done, except getting the watermaker up and running (but finally, FINALLY, we were getting nearer to giving it a test run) and it was time to relax and enjoy ourselves.  Our youngest son, Rob, and his fiancee, Teneile, arrived on Christmas Eve for two weeks and we had the best time together, exploring the local waterfalls, diving with the mantas, and feasting on delicious fish that Hans had speared for us.

Coral trout for dinner. Yum!
Hans is definitely part of the family!
New years’ Eve celebrations
The newly certified open water diver thanks to Bruce
The new diving buddies!

Unfortunately, work commitments meant that Nick and Sally couldn’t be with us at the same time, so as we farewelled Rob and T, we welcomed Nick and Sal and had a brief hour or so together in Sorong before heading back to the island. In all the excitement, I forgot to take a photo of us all together!

The weather had been unsettled for several weeks with daily thunderstorms and high winds and swell, so it wasn’t the best start to Nick and Sal’s holiday. But then things got a whole lot worse…

At around 2.45 am on the 10th January, a major 7.5 earthquake rocked the Tanimbar islands 500 km south of us.  At about the same time, we were experiencing another ferocious storm with very high winds and lashings of rain. But this one was off the scale – by far the worst we’d experienced here, with Bruce estimating the wind speed around 40-50 kts.  We always worry about our small boat moored off the beach in these types of conditions, so Bruce got up about 2.30 am to check on it.  He came back to bed reporting all was OK, but within a few minutes we felt the house shaking on its foundations. Not knowing about the earthquake, we thought it was the wind, and remarked on the terrible run of weather we were having. It reminded us of the words of a friend – ‘nature can be cruel’.  Just as we were starting to doze off, we heard a loud explosion like a shotgun. We leapt out of bed as more explosions went off and raced outside to find our workshop/kitchen building fully ablaze.  That’s the trouble with grass huts – they burn fast and furiously, and the fire was way too fierce to do anything except watch in horror as all our equipment and hard work went up in flames.  The explosions we heard were the fireworks we’d saved for Nick and Sally’s visit that were stored on the back walkway of the building.  It was quite a show.  Our neighbours came running to help, and Hans and his brother Niko came racing across the bay in their boat, but there was little anyone could do.  We were in shock and not thinking clearly, but at least Nick had the presence of mind to suggest trying to slow the fire down so it didn’t engulf the makeshift tent at the back that stored all our fuel drums and the generator.  He, Sally, and the others grabbed our foot-washing basins from the houses and ran back and forth from the beach, throwing basin after basin of seawater on the fire to slow it down, at great cost to the soles of their feet on the sharp coral.  I was pretty useless with my bung knee, unable to run or carry the basins, and all I could think about was my beautiful new kitchen that had only been installed a month before. And the damn watermaker that had caused Bruce so much grief, and that we’d planned to test-run that very day. And all the other equipment stored there – the batteries and solar controller, dive compressor, all our dive gear, underwater cameras and lights, Bruce’s computer and tools, washing machine, fridge, freezer, kitchen equipment, and food.  We’ll never know exactly what caused the fire, but we suspect the rain had most likely blown in under the eaves of the roof and caused an electrical short at the inverter/battery connection. Now, of course, the rain had stopped just when we needed it most.  

By the time the sun rose there was just a heap of blackened, smoking timbers, twisted metal and ashy rubble to show for the last 12 months of investment and hard work. It was shocking, traumatic, and heartbreaking.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur.  The Saleo family were simply amazing with their support. There were hugs and tears all round. They brought us breakfast of cake and tea and coffee, and then fed us lunch and dinner as we had absolutely nothing.  Initially we were at a loss to know what to do.  How could we possibly rebuild? In the short term, could we still stay on the island or would we be booking tickets home? And what about Nick and Sal, who’d come all this way on holiday? But two events helped make up our minds. Sitting at the family’s dining table being comforted by delicious food and serenaded by Hans and his family on their homemade ukelele and bass reinforced what beautiful people they are, and what a beautiful place this is. How could we possibly leave? And then Rob and Teneile back home went into full support mode, setting up a Gofundme page with assistance from our third proxy son, Nick Amidy (Nemo).  It’s not something we would ever have contemplated doing, and to be honest we felt a little uncomfortable with the idea, but as the love and support and donations started flowing in, we realised that we were part of something much bigger than us  – a big, beautiful community of friends and family.  It’s been profoundly moving – many times in the past week we’ve been reduced to tears by everyone’s love and support, and we can’t thank you enough for helping us keep our dream alive.  In less than a week we’d reached the target, which is simply astonishing.

Despite the loss, we feel extraordinarily lucky to be given a second chance. Knowing we have the support of so many people has given us the energy and motivation to start again, one step at a time.

The day after the fire, we all went to Waisai (our nearest town) to stock up on food and some essential items, like a little butane camping stove.  Luckily, the generator and fuel were spared, so Nick and Bruce re-wired the generator to allow us to have some power to the other buildings.  At least our living room, bedrooms, and bathroom are all intact so we have somewhere to sit and somewhere to sleep, and we still have one water tank left with water we can collect from the artesian well at the local pearl farm.

While Rob, Teneile, and Nemo were working hard back home on raising funds, Nick and Sal have been an amazing support here – they wouldn’t hear of going back home early or finding other accommodation and their emotional and practical support has been so comforting.  Hans’s older brother, Niko, had some dive gear that they were able to rent, and so luckily they managed to have some pretty amazing dives with the manta rays in the final days they were here.  Unfortunately, all our underwater footage has been lost along with Bruce’s computer, so this short clip is one that Nick took on his GoPro – I think they had about 12 mantas on that dive!

We consider ourselves truly blessed to have such caring, capable, and loving sons and partners.

Rob and Teneile
Nick and Sal

And so the rebuild starts  – better and stronger, with several essential modifications.  We’ll keep you posted on the progress of Toucan’s Retreat Mk II, and just want to thank each and every one of you for your love, support and generosity. It means the world to us.

Onwards and upwards, dear friends….

6 Replies to “Disaster Strikes”

  1. Sheerie and I are so sorry to hear this news. What a knock!. Hopefully this will soon be behind you both and you can begin to enjoy your life there. The main thing is that you are all OK. Stuff can be fixed or replaced.

    1. Thanks Tom and Sheerie – yes, you’re absolutely right, it could have been so much worse and we’re very thankful that we’re safe.

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