The Salani Surf Resort in Samoa, a staple among South Pacific surf haunts for more than a decade, is gone. A result of the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the camp was simply erased by Mother Nature on the morning of September 29. Fortunately, thanks to the quick thinking and proactive nature of the camp’s General Manager, Nick Shannon, everyone in the camp survived the harrowing ordeal unharmed. Still coming to terms with the devastation, we contacted Shannon, a 35-year-old Aussie expat, to hear the story of the disaster first-hand and how they’re already planning on rebuilding the resort.
I know that it’s been a pretty devastating week for you. But can you please tell us what happened the day the tsunami struck?
Nick Shannon: Yeah, it’s been tough. But the day the earthquake hit, it was still pretty early in the morning. I was in bed at the camp with my 16-month-old son, and I felt the earthquake start. Things were falling off the walls, everything was shaking out of control. Mate, it was the most violent thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I can’t really describe to you how violent it was. [The earthquake registered at an 8.0 and has been reported to last up to two to three minutes]. After the earthquake and the tsunami, there’s a local village chief who's 70 years old and lives next to the camp. I asked him if he ever felt anything like that before and he said that no, never. Nothing like that. We get hit by earthquakes every once in a while, but this was something different. It was so violent.
What happened after the earthquake finally stopped?
After the earthquake, I ran outside to all of the guests and told them to get their stuff, passports, money, you know, stuff like that. There were six guests staying at the camp that day. Me and a few of the fellas that work in the camp got everybody together and into the trucks and were ready to head to high-ground. While we were doing this, I told one of the guys that works for us to keep an eye on the reef and see if anything looks weird. A few minutes later and he’s yelling at me, telling me that something really strange going on. Right then we got everybody in the trucks and drove up this hill to wait it out for the all clear.
After the earthquake and the tsunami, there’s a local village chief whose 70 years old and lives next to the camp. I asked him if he ever felt anything like that before and he said that no, never. Nothing like that.
After a while, I came back down and saw the devastation. The camp was gone. Just leveled. The only thing that was left standing was the building where I lived. And unfortunately, a few of the bad eggs in the town had gone through and stolen a bunch of my stuff. They didn’t take my boards, so I grabbed those. And then I went back up the hill to tell everyone that the camp was gone. We had two Australian doctors who I brought back down the hill to see if we could help anyone. And then I had to start arranging for accommodations for the guests, you know, finding a place for them to stay in town before they made their way home.
So everyone was safe? No one from the camp was injured?
Yeah, no one from the camp was hurt. We were lucky; no one was surfing that morning. Everyone was kind of laying low that morning. But there were a lot of people killed. One of the local surfers, one of the better surfers on the island, he lost his daughter. But we were lucky.
It sounds like you and the workers at the camp saved some lives.
Yeah, we were fortunate. It was really an act of self-preservation. After I saw the devastation down at the camp, I went back up the hill again and, a lot of the guests had Blackberrys. I told them to ring their loved ones and tell them that they were okay. That was good. I actually got through to Wendy, a woman that works at Waterways Travel to tell her that the camp was gone. We have a real joking relationship. When I told her that Salani was gone, she didn’t believe me at first, and then I told her, no, I’m serious. It’s gone.
I know you’re still dealing with everything, but what’s next for you and the resort?
Well, I’m going back to Australia later this week with my son. But then I’ll be back in Samoa to figure out with the owners of the resort he we can start rebuilding. We have to deal with the insurance companies, and hopefully that will go well and we can start rebuilding the camp. Because we will. We’re going to make Salani better than ever.