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Upolu, (Western) Samoa hardest hit by Tsunami
« on: October 02, 2009, 05:43:42 AM »
Samoan Tsunami News from the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press
Upolu, (Western) Samoa hardest hit by Tsunami

APIA, Samoa -- Samoans combed through the mud-swept wreckage of their lives and told of the terror of being trapped underwater or flung inland by a tsunami that ravaged towns and killed at least 149 people in the South Pacific.

Officials expect the death toll from the Tuesday, September 29, 2009 disaster to rise as more areas are searched.

"The devastation caused was complete," Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele told New Zealand's National Radio on Wednesday after inspecting the southeast coast of the main island of Upolu, the most heavily-hit area. "In some villages absolutely no house was standing. All that was achieved within 10 minutes by the very powerful tsunami."

His own village of Lesa was washed away, as were many others in Samoa and nearby American Samoa and Tonga.

A magnitude 8.0 quake struck off Samoa at 6:48 a.m. local time Tuesday. The islands soon were engulfed by four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (four to six meters) high that reached up to a mile inland.

"To me it was like a monster -- just black water coming to you. It wasn't a wave that breaks, it was a full force of water coming straight," said Luana Tavale, an American Samoa government employee.

Ms. Tuilaepa said the death toll in Samoa was 110, mostly elderly and young children. At least 30 people were killed on American Samoa, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said. Officials on the island of Tonga said nine people had been killed.

Samoan police commander Lilo Maiava predicted the toll would rise.

"It may take a week, two weeks or even three weeks" to complete the search for the many people still missing, he said.

The quake was centered about 120 miles south of the nation of Samoa, formerly part of New Zealand, which has about 220,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000. The two lie about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, just east of the international date line. That means the tsunami hit Tuesday morning there, while it was already Wednesday in Asia.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said it issued an alert, but the waves came so quickly that residents only had about 10 minutes to respond.

New Zealand school teacher Charlie Pearse choked back tears as she spoke to New Zealand's TV One News from an Apia hospital bed in Samoa, recalling how she was trapped underwater and thought she was going to die.

She was in the back of a truck trying to outrun the tsunami with about 20 children when a wave tossed the truck and it landed on top of them.

"We all went under the water and I think a number of the children died instantly," Ms. Pearse said.

"I asked, 'Is this my time to come home? Take me home, I'm ready,' and I let my breath out and I took a big gulp of water ... and I don't know, I just popped out" from under the water, Ms. Pearse said.

The heavily damaged southeast coast was a stretch of flattened, mud-swept villages. Mattresses hung from trees. Police searched for survivors amid pulverized homes and bodies scattered in a swamp.

Several tourist resorts were wiped out, authorities said, but they had no solid number of visitors in the area.

Three of the key resorts on the coast are scenes of "total devastation" while a fourth "has a few units standing on higher ground," Nynette Sass of Samoa's National Disaster Management committee told New Zealand's National Radio.

In Tonga, government spokesman Lopeti Senituli said parts of an island have disappeared, with two of the island's three villages virtually flattened.

"The hospital on the island has been severely damaged as well as the airport runway .. meaning no fixed-wing aircraft can land," he said. A Tongan patrol boat has been sent with water, food and shelter for more than 1,000 residents.

In American Samoa's capital of Pago Pago, power was expected to be out in some areas for up to a month, and officials said some 2,200 people were in seven shelters across the island.

The waves lifted a building housing a hardware store and carried it across a two-lane highway. Crews later found the two employees' bodies in the debris.

Red Cross relief worker Garete Wolfe at a hilltop camp in Samoa said water was the most critical need.

"The water lines are all .. damaged, and with this water problem we face waterborne disease," Wolfe said.

A Coast Guard C-130 plane loaded with aid and carrying Federal Emergency Management Agency officials flew from Hawaii to Pago Pago, where debris had been cleared from runways. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster for American Samoa.

Australian officials said they will send an air force plane carrying 20 tons of humanitarian aid, as well as aid officials and medical personnel to Samoa.

New Zealand provided one million New Zealand dollars ($710,000) in immediate aid to Samoa, Tonga and the Samoan Red Cross on Thursday. Acting Prime Minister Bill English said Prime Minister John Key is cutting short his U.S. vacation to fly to Samoa to inspect the damage.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said three Australians were among the dead. The British Foreign Office said one Briton was missing and presumed dead.

While the earthquake and tsunami were big, they were not as large as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 in a dozen countries across Asia.


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