Life couldn’t have been better for twenty-nine-year-old Vicki Damon, on a first wedding anniversary honeymoon and expecting her first child in March, when suddenly the world literally turned upside-down.
The honeymoon was at the Seabreeze Resort at Upolu, in Samoa, and the earth-shattering event was the tsunami that struck the island on Wednesday 30 September. The wall of water was raised by a series of massive sub-oceanic earthquakes and aftershocks.
Vicki is the daughter of Rob and Kay Damon, who came to Euroa to live twenty-eight years ago. She was a student at local schools and will be remembered as an active child who participated in athletic sports and gymnastics. After completing her VCE in 1998, Vicki went to Melbourne to follow a career in the performing arts and appeared in several television dramas (including an ongoing role in “Neighbours”) and movies.
Travelling abroad was another ambition that Vicki managed to fulfil before meeting her husband-to-be, Christopher Verhoeks, in Perth. They were married on 26 September 2008 at “The Palms” in Albert Park Lake Gardens, and now live in Pakenham. Chris (who took Vicki’s surname on marriage) is a tiler by trade and Vicki is the manager at the Fountain Gate Shopping Centre branch of “Just Jeans”, in Narre Warren.
At the time, Vicki and Chris decided to postpone their dream honeymoon for a year. And to begin with it was an idyllic one, the couple enjoying the relaxation of being tourists in a beach resort, taking lots of photographs and videos of their explorations both above and below the surface of the sea around the island. Just three days before they were due to leave, all of that physical memorabilia was destroyed by the tsunami, along with the rest of their possessions.
The first major quake was recorded at 6:48am local time on Tuesday, at a depth of 18 kilometres (11 miles), 195 kilometres south of Apia. The second, recorded at 6:47am on Wednesday, was 10 kilometres below the surface and centred 255 kilometres southwest of Apia. It threw up waves of around 25 feet (7.5 metres) high, which swept ashore about 20 minutes afterwards.
"We didn't feel the earthquake on Wednesday until 7am, when it woke us up, and as it turned out we only had five or six minutes then before the tsunami hit," Vicki said.
"Chris got up and went out onto the porch to watch the ocean, and a couple of minutes later I got up to see what he was doing. He saw the ocean pull back so far that the reef became visible, then water approaching. At that point, he turned to me and screamed, 'Run!'. Other residents saw the look on his face and knew he was serious, so they bolted, too.
"Immediately after the quake, no one had been really alarmed, as we didn't get any tsunami warning sirens like they did in the main town of Apia. If it wasn't for my husband watching the ocean, I don't think we, or many of the other residents, would have made it out alive."
Chris and Vicki scrambled up the hillside behind the resort, from which vantage point they were able to watch the complete destruction of the building they had occupied minutes before and everything around it. In an instant they had lost their passports, clothes, jewellery, cameras, mobile phones, money and credit cards.
Of far greater concern to both of them, though, was their unborn baby, and as soon as medical help became available, Vicki was examined to make sure that all was well. On account of her pregnancy, she and Chris were sent back to Australia on a “priority care” flight to Sydney, where further checks were made on the baby’s health before they were allowed to return home.
The baby will be a sixth grandchild for Rob and Kay, who have two other children, Karen and Paul. Rob has unfortunately suffered a great deal of illness in recent months, and the trauma of hearing about the Samoan tsunami and worrying about Vicki has been very emotionally difficult. Kay said that many people have called to leave messages of consolation and hope, which has been very supportive throughout this trying time.