01 June 2014

The day I almost died

Post traumatic memories and economic struggle make it 
hard to concentrate in school. © UNICEF Pacific/2014/Thakkar

Junior Miniti is a 14-year old boy living in Koahill, an area in Honiara city along the banks of the river Matanikau. Flash floods in early April 2014 obliterated his neighbourhood and claimed 18 out of the 22 lives lost that fateful day. His family chose to be in the evacuation centre for just a week. They went back to, what was left of their neighbourhood, started cleaning and rebuilding immediately. It took over a week’s hard work to just deal with fixing his home. It is now almost two months, and counting, cleaning up the neighbourhood. The signs of the devastation are still evident in the surroundings and the people. This is Junior’s story.

The day I almost died - This is how I will always remember the 3rd of April 2014.  

My name is Junior Miniti. I have three sisters and we live with my mother. My father passed away many years ago and so I am the man of the house. I study in Coronation School and I’m academically very good. I enjoy playing volleyball and riding my cycle around the city. I love eating chicken - it tastes wonderful. I don’t like girls at all. I enjoy Math but I don’t like Social Studies. One day I hope to become a Mechanical Engineer. I always thought I’d make that happen but now I am not so sure anymore. Earlier I used to love going to school but all of that changed on the 3rd of April 2014. Everything around me and inside me changed that day.

It was raining all morning. The school declared the day off because of incessant rains. My friends and I were really excited about the unexpected holiday and decided to go for a swim that morning. Later that afternoon, we were playing volleyball. And that is when it happened. 

Out of nowhere, we saw the river transform into a wall of water that hit everything in its way with a force I had never seen before. Fortunately, we weren’t swimming then. If not, I would not be here to tell this story right now. One of my cousins wasn’t as lucky as me. He was swimming in the river and was swept away in seconds. That is the last time I saw him. 

It all happened so fast that before I knew it, I was surrounded by water all the way up to my neck. Fortunately, there was a ladder near me and I managed to climb up it, hoping the water would go down. But that didn’t help for too long. Another strong current forced me to jump into the river and hold on to a windowsill close-by. I couldn’t beat the water, I knew it. It was too powerful and strong for me. That was the scariest moment of my life. 

When I thought I had a fair fighting chance to swim and survive, I swam to the riverbank as soon as possible and ran uphill. I have never run so fast in my life. Once I was safe up the hill, I saw people and houses being washed away in moments. The first thought that struck me at that moment was “God! I would have not seen the end of today.”

Wreckage is a daily reminder of homes and vegetable gardens damaged or destroyed.
© UNICEF Pacific/2014/Thakka
The rest of my immediate family luckily survived as well. Part of our house was washed away but the structure was still standing. We stayed the night at a relative’s place and moved to an evacuation centre the next day. After a week, the government asked for those with houses still standing to go back. My family and I were keen to rebuild our lives and start over. We came back and started cleaning up the house and the neighbourhood. I didn’t lose anything valuable or dear to me but that is because I didn’t have much to begin with! No toys, no books, nothing. The only thing I lost that day was myself. 

My mother is a cleaner at the Parliament and we used to rent out half of our house. But after the floods, the tenants got scared and left. Since then, we have been struggling financially because no one wants to rent a house near the river. My school fees have not been paid yet. I don’t know if my mother will be able to afford it anymore. In any case, I don’t feel like going to school anymore. I know it is important and so I go. But I don’t feel like it anymore. 

My mother works really hard. It would have been nice to have more help in dealing with this loss but we knew we had to rely on ourselves. So here we are. It is almost two months since the incident but the reminders of the devastation still surround us. Maybe the neighbourhood will be cleaned up, maybe we will be relocated to new surroundings. While the physical reminders may disappear, the memory of that experience will always remain with me. It was the day I almost died. 

Neha Thakkar
Communications Officer

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  1. The suffering of these helpless people breaks my heart. Great Job UNICEF and Neha Thakkar in educating the global civic society about the plight of these people. Surely, the world can get its act together and do more than lip service for Fiji and Solomon Islands.

    Sourav Roy
    Director of Communications,

  2. The moving story puts a human touch to a natural disaster which for the unaffected often reads like a distant event peppered with statistics. Neha has done a wonderful job of
    reconnecting us with our common humanity in the face of any natural disaster!!