Shakes, Rattles and Rolls

Foxtel’s Rose Kelly, an ex Vanuatu resident, felt she had finally made it as a local when she had been shaken from her bed by a ‘seismic event’

December 18, 2018
Rebecca Murphy

Rebecca Murphy

December 18, 2018

You know you’ve been living on an island in the South Pacific for a while when you start to feel left out that you haven’t experienced an earthquake yet. It’s a crazy statement, except that Vanuatu is renowned for experiencing hundreds of small tremors per year and as such you’re not considered a local until you’ve felt the earth move under your feet. Well, I’m proud to say, as of this week I now know what all the fuss is about!

Rose Kelly in Vanuatu

Ring of Fire

Vanuatu is made up of 83 islands, nine active volcanos and sits on a major fault line that contributes to its name as the ‘Ring of Fire’. There have unfortunately been some extremely serious quakes on the islands over the years, that I’m told have left locals still shaken even years on. Thankfully, the one I felt last week was strong enough to rattle and roll, but no-one was injured and the only damage across the island was from objects falling from cupboards. Although I have been told by a reliable source that two of Air Vanuatu’s jet planes broke in two… relax, they were the paper model airplanes that fell of the shelf in the head office in town! Ed’s note: Vanuatu experiences around 2,000 ‘seismic events’ each year, many of them barely noticeable. New Zealand seismographs pick up 15,000 per year with a handful large enough to be felt, and surprisingly Australia racks up about 100 per year too.

Rude Awakening

The fun part about experiencing a quake in a small town community is the way people start discussing their personal experiences of it – where they were and what they were doing. For me, I was having a well-deserved sleep-in (the quake hit at 8:30am) and was in my usual deep sleep position of arm and leg half hanging off the bed. I was awoken by the sensation of the bed rocking and swaying dramatically underneath me, to the point where I was literally thrown from the bed onto the floor – what a way to wake up! It took me a moment to realise that the rest of the room was also shaking and that it was in fact an earthquake! Mixed emotions of fear and panic soon turned to fascination and excitement as I realised it was slowing and that the house was not going to fall on my head.

And that’s when all the text messages started flying! One friend sent me a message saying “Watch for Tsunami”… to which I cheekily replied with a photo of the ocean right at my doorstep and said “Ok, watching!”

When the Wheels Fall Off

Another friend Mick was out on a boy’s deep sea fishing charter when they felt the quake. He tells me they stopped the boat and checked for some sort of major engine failure because it felt so big.

My friend Natalie was driving her car and says she had to pull over and check if the wheels were falling off the car, as that’s the only way she could describe the sensation. She also says she wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or not when she worked out it wasn’t the car, it was “just” an earthquake!

One thing I’ve grown to love about Vanuatu is the way that the local Ni-Vanuatu people can take so many things literally. So when one of the main office buildings in town was evacuated from this week’s quake, the staff were apparently told to exit the building and find a safe place together in case of a “big wave”. So, in a group, they walked quickly (which in Vanuatu is about snail pace) down to the waterfront and stood on the jetty, looking for a big wave. While my cheeky comment about “Ok watching” for a tsunami was clearly a joke between friends, this group of colleagues genuinely thought it would be an interesting thing to watch arrive.

Initiation Complete

So while I know this one wasn’t a shocker, feeling an earthquake can most definitely leave you feeling shaken and one thing I will never forget was the sight of the trees outside the house swaying forward and back like a man who has had way too much kava! And I can now say I have passed the initiation into island life here in Vanuatu, which has pretty much taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you’ve just got to roll with it.
Rosie x

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