Watch CBSN Live

Tracing "Survivor" island's tsunami recovery

When "Survivor: South Pacific" begins Wednesday night, it will be the first time the show has returned to the island nation of Samoa since the deadly tsunami two years ago.

CBS News Correspondent Betty Nguyen traveled there to see how Samoans are recovering.

Trending News

Pictures: "Survivor: South Pacific"Pictures: "Survivor: Samoa"

Nguyen reported, "It happened so quickly. Just before 7 a.m., kids were on their way to school -- and many others were just waking up. A massive earthquake, an 8.1 in magnitude- hit near Samoa on September 29, 2009. What happened minutes later changed so many lives."

Joe Annandale told CBS News, "We started panicking when we saw the water receding."

Annandale and his wife Tui knew what to expect of the tsunami -- but nothing could prepare them for what would unfold.

Annandale said, "We saw this massive wall of water rolling in."

With no time to seek higher ground, the couple sought shelter in a car parked behind a neighbor's house -- and waited.

Annandale said, "This wave just rolled in, picked up the house, picked us up and slammed us against (a) tree there."

Nguyen said, "There's nothing left now."

Annandale told Nguyen, "Nothing left"

"It was just mayhem," he recalled. "I mean it was just, the whole village was underwater."

The sheer power of the wave carried them nearly a quarter of a mile. The couple had been married for 40 years and owned a popular island resort. He was a village chief, she a former beauty queen. The two were inseparable - until they were swept apart.

"Her last words, I still remember," Annandale said. "Her last words were 'Jesus help us.'"

Tui was one of 189 people to perish that September morning. Many of the victims were children. The devastation to the island was unimaginable, and the wounded were overwhelming local hospitals.

Dr. Ramona Salins was in Samoa wrapping production on the TV show "Survivor." Stationed on a side of the island untouched by the tsunami's wrath, she rushed in with urgently needed supplies.

Salins told Nguyen, "We just got big cardboard boxes and we just basically cleared the shelves, and just headed to the clinic."

Nguyen said, "When you're dealing with children who've been injured, I mean they're crying, some screaming..."

Salins said, "If you get too involved in the emotion, and too involved in the crying, you start shaking or get really upset, or you might be tearing yourself. So you know, you just have to focus."

The waves that swept the shores of Samoa reached 46 feet in height. And while they destroyed much of the island, they couldn't destroy the spirit of its people. Today, the bustle of the local markets has returned, and many sections of the coast are once again lush and pristine. But the effects of the tsunami are still seen in places.

Some resorts still haven't rebuilt two years after the deadly tsunami. The owner of one resort simply didn't have the money, even though it offers one of the best views of the South Pacific.

Annandale faced the same economic hardship rebuilding his resort, but he forged on because his is not a survivor story: it's a love story.

"You've got to rebuild, and you've got to rebuild for Tui," Annandale said. "And that's what we've done."

Two years ago, the Sinalei Reef Resort looked like a total loss. The grounds and gardens, which Annandale's wife had spent years cultivating, is alive once more.

"This is all about her," Annandale said. "She's here all the time!"

When asked how the experience has changed him, Annandale said, "I'm not quite sure what it's made me. I still have my weak moments."

In those weak moments, Annandale said he turns to music and plays his guitar.

Nguyen said the kind of resolve found in Annandale is in quite a few other Samoans. She said, "It's a nation that's heavily dependent on tourism. When 'Survivor' and the tourists left two years ago, just before the tsunami, it seemed doubtful they would ever return. But they have and it's pretty interesting to see what happens when a major reality show comes to your island - especially one dealing with a real life crisis. We call it 'Survivor' Economics, and I'll have that story tomorrow."

Tune in Wednesday for Nguyen's second report on "The Early Show."

View CBS News In