One of the reliable sources to know what happened on 8 October 1950 is from eyewitnesses. 28 eyewitnesses from the three villages told their story of what they experienced on that Sunday afternoon. They were between 6-21 years old then the tsunami happened (71-86 years old when interviewed).
The interview of the eyewitness was conducted individually and separately. During the interview, each eyewitness was asked to tell with their own words what they remember on that day. The interview was conducted in the Indonesian language mixed with their local language. After they told their stories, the interviewee asked some questions to better understand, clarify, and to confirm their story. The length of the interview was between 40-70 minutes and recorded in a video with their consent.
The story of these eyewitnesses is compiled in the booklet “Air Turun Naik di Tiga Negeri” (Tsunami in Three Villages). The language has been adjusted to fit the general audience readers. The videos available on this website also has been edited and shortened by eliminating repeating and irrelevant information.
Summary of the Eyewitness Story
Based on the interviews, most of the eyewitnesses stated that they felt a strong ground-shaking phenomenon on Sunday afternoon after leaving the Sunday sermon at the church. Several said that they felt the earth shook several times (initial: MJS; MK; IP) – “The first shaking was not too strong, the second is stronger, but the strongest was the third one” (MJS).
The eyewitness also said they heard a loud noise (DP; ET; BK; WM) – “I heard a loud and roaring sound, I thought it was an airplane (ET).
Three witnesses said that the wave came three times (MSJ; JL; MK) – “After the earthquake the water receded and the wave came, first the beach dried out then come three big waves: (JL). “The first wave was small, the second was bigger but the third was the biggest” (MSJ).
As for the direction of the wave, one witness said the wave came from the west side (MSJ). Another witness said from south eest (JL) and another said from the Banda Sea (BK).
The witnesses said that the strong wave destroyed the houses in Hutumuri villages except for the church. The wave was about 2-3 meters (MSJ; MK) – “All houses collapsed, the chain fence behind the church which was about 2 meters above the ground collapsed (MSJ). “The water was about three meters as all the houses were destroyed (MK). “Before the tsunami came, this village had three parallel streets, the one closest to the beach vanished and the street in the middle (second street) was inundated” (JL).
The social and political situation in Ambon at that time was unstable, there was fighting between the Indonesian Army and the South Moluccas Fighters. During that time, there were a number of Indonesian Navy ships in from the village (MK) – “About one week before the tsunami, there was an indication that the ship would dock in this area, the people were afraid and had to be evacuated to the forest” (JL).
This situation forced the people to build temporary houses on the mountain or hill behind the village (MK; ML; IP) – “The Hutumuri village almost empty when the tsunami came. Not many people were in the village. At that time there was only one victim as he stayed in the village due to his illness, Mr. Wempi, he could not escape so he died” (ML).
One witness was on the beach at that time – “As I ran, the first wave had come and was as high as my waist, I was 12 at that time and was healthy, so I could still run to the hill: (IP).