Samoa tsunami toll may exceed 100, hundreds injured

A series of tsunamis smashed into the Pacific island nations of American and Western Samoa, killing possibly more than 100 people, destroying villages and injuring hundreds, officials said on Wednesday.

US President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in American Samoa, a US territory, and ordered federal aid to help recovery efforts, with a US C-130 military transport aircraft due to leave Honolulu for the tiny South Pacific islands.

At least 24 people were killed and 50 injured, Governor Togiola Tulafono said from Hawaii, with the southern portion of the main Tutuila island “devastated”.

Television images showed flattened shorelines and homes torn apart by the waves, with large fishing boats hurled ashore.

New Zealand said there were serious concerns about the neighbouring island nation of Tonga after a four metre wave hit its northern coast. Tongan officials said they feared as many as 10 people had been killed.

A Pacific-wide tsunami warning was issued after an eight magnitude undersea quake off American Samoa, with reports of a small tsunami reaching New Zealand and rising sea levels in several South Pacific island nations.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre cancelled its Pacific-wide warning, but Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued a local tsunami warning for its east coast, warning of a possible small tsunami.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre later issued an advisory that small tsunami waves had reached Hawaii, warning the waves could be dangerous to swimmers and boats.

An Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26 2004, which killed about 230 000 people across 11 countries, is the worst on record.

Bodies buried in sand
Shortly after local radio tsunami warnings were issued in American and Western Samoa, waves started crashing into the capital of American Samoa, Pago Pago, and villages and resorts on the southern coasts, witnesses said.

“It’s believed as of now, there could be a number close to 100 deaths,” said Ausegalia Mulipola, assistant chief executive of Western Samoa’s disaster management office.

“They are still continuing the searches for any missing bodies in the area,” Mulipola told Reuters, adding the southern side of the country’s main island Upolu was the worst hit.

At least 47 people had been killed, officials later told Reuters, with the number of injured still unknown as emergency teams scoured remote coastal villages.

“Some areas have been flattened and the tsunami brought a lot of sand onshore, so there have been reports the sand has covered some of the bodies,” Mulipola said. “So we need specialised machines to search for bodies that are buried under the sand.”

A unnamed Samoan living in Australia told ABC local news that nine family members had been killed in the village of Lalomanu.

“We have confirmation that nine members of our family have perished, four of them children and many more missing.
The tourists haven’t been accounted for either,” the writer said.

The owner of the Samoan resort Sea Breeze on the southside of Upolu said people were almost washed away when the waves destroyed their resort.

“The second wave hit and came up through the floor, pushed out the back door and threw us outside,” Wendy Booth told Fairfax Radio Network in Australia.

UN emergency reports said destructive waves struck southern Upolu, with at least 17 killed, while the northern island, Savaii, could have also been hit.

Emergency shelters were required and Red Cross teams had mobilised more than 100 emergency workers who were collecting coconuts to help meet early food and water needs, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. - Reuters

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