More than 110 dead in tsunami-hit Samoa

Last updated 22:43 30/09/2009

Families Stranded In Samoa

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Stories Of Survival, Stories Of Loss

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Cameraman describes havoc

Tsunami causes havoc in Samoa

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A tsunami that hit the South Pacific has killed dozens of people, including at least one New Zealander, with many more injured.

Are you in Samoa, or do you know anyone in Samoa who has been affected by the tsunami? Email your comments, photos and video to

Samoan police commissioner Lilo Maiava said police had confirmed 63 deaths, but that officials were still searching the devastated areas.

Sky News reported at least 113 people were confirmed dead.

At least 30 people were killed on American Samoa, Govenor Togiola Tulafono said, adding that the toll was expected to rise as emergency crews were recovering bodies overnight.

"I don't think anybody is going to be spared in this disaster," said Mr Tulafono, who was in Hawaii for a conference.

In Washington, President Barack Obama declared a disaster for American Samoa. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was deploying teams to provide support and assess damage.

New Zealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English has said he has a "reliable but unconfirmed report" that at least one New Zealander has been killed.

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Mr English said about 150 New Zealanders had reported to the High Commission in Apia, 70 of them from the worst-hit resort areas. At least nine were injured. 

"We have no further information about New Zealand fatalities and there won't be until Samoan authorities have identified the growing number of bodies that are coming in," Mr English said as the overall death toll was reported to have reached about 100.

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A series of tsunamis smashed into the Pacific island nations of American Samoa and Samoa after a huge undersea quake off American Samoa around 7am on Wednesday.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said he was "shocked beyond belief". Looking shaken and distressed onboard a flight back to Samoa, Mr Malielegaoi described it as an "unimaginable" tragedy.

"So much has gone. So many people are gone. Im so shocked, so saddened by all the loss."

A New Zealand P3 Orion maritime surveillance airplane reached the region this afternoon and had searched for survivors off the coast. It was expected to resume searching at first light.

The Samoa Red Cross said it had opened five temporary shelters and estimated that about 15,000 people were affected by the tsunami.

A new hospital in the village of Poutasi has been flattened, forcing the injured to make the one hour journey to Apia hospital

Mr Malielegaoi said his own village of Lepa was decimated. "Thankfully the alarm sounded on the radio and gave people time to climb to higher ground," he said. "But not everyone escaped."

Joe Annandale, owner of the popular Sinalei Resort and regional mayor of the ravaged south coast, lost his wife Tui. Her body was found washed up in a tree.


At a press conference in Wellington today, Mr English said the fatality report had come from a family member of the person believed to have died during the tsunami.

The New Zealand High Commission in Apia is talking to local authorities and checking hospitals and hotels.

Mr English said they were bracing for reports of more Kiwi deaths, with the tsunami devastating popular tourist destinations including Lalomanu and with many Samoan New Zealanders expected to have returned for school holidays.

"The informed judgment we are getting is that there could be more New Zealand fatalities," he said.

"Our understanding is that where the wave hit... there's a lot of destruction." "I would underline the fact that this is a situation that is unfolding," he said.

An Air Force Orion was expected to arrive in Samoa later tonight and assist with searching for people out to sea while a Hercules was being prepared to leave with medical supplies and other aid that would be decided after a meeting with Samoan officials later today.

Officials were also working with the Australian government to ensure the aid efforts dovetailed. Air New Zealand is increasing capacity on flights to Samoa.

Air NZ airline operations general manager David Morgan said a plane departed this afternoon with several hundred blankets, over 1000 t-shirts and basic amenity packs.

He said reports were coming in of people turning up at the airport in Apia wearing only pyjamas.

Officials are also concerned about northern parts of Tonga with five confirmed dead. The island of Niuatoputapu is reportedly covered in rocks and is where Tonga's main airport is located. The runway is accessible and the Tongan government was preparing to send a plane overhead to survey the damage.

Earlier the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said 76 people were registered as being in Samoa, but the numbers were likely to be far higher given it is the school holidays here.

New Zealand Civil Defence authorities have cancelled the tsunami alert issued following a large earthquake in the Pacific this morning.

The warning was issued after an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale hit near the islands of Samoa, sparking a tsunami which killed dozens of people, including at least one New Zealander.


Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat getting washed ashore and coming to rest on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.

Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to assess the casualties and damage. But the death toll seemed sure to rise, with dead bodies already piling up at a hospital in Samoa.

Samoa's deputy prime minister Misa Telefoni said the south coast of Upolu had been devastated.

"We've had very heavy damage all along the coast and most of the tourist resorts have been wiped out."

Mr Telefoni told that Samoa would be "most definitely" appealing for international aid as the country had suffered heavy infrastructure damage, both from the tsunami and the earthquake.

He said Samoa's main international airport was re-opened after having to be checked for earthquake damage.

Telefoni said he did not believe that authorities could have responded any better, given the quake was so close.

"The main damage is our relationship with the ocean, which we grew up seeing as our friend and a place where we can fish and swim. That's going to change forever," he said.

"The difficulty is that it now appears that the fault was very, very close to us and we only had minutes rather than hours to respond.

"... And what's becoming very, very clear is we've got to make sure for the future that our disaster response is really up to it, so we can evacuate people before they're actually in danger."

New Zealand Opposition leader Phil Goff has dispatched MP Chris Carter to Samoa.

Russell Hunter, editor of the Samoan Observer, said it was difficult to get information. Internet and phone connections were patchy.

The south-east coast is an area with several holiday resorts as well as numerous villages.

A Samoan reporter said tsunami victims "are everywhere" in a hospital near a hard-hit area.

Associated Press reporter Keni Lesa said he had visited the town's main hospital where "there are bodies everywhere", including at least one child.

It is believed they were suffering from shock and were not seriously injured.

Three South Koreans are among the dead in American Samoa, an official at Seoul's foreign ministry said.



Lyall Preston and a group of holidaymakers from Dargaville in Northland watched from higher ground as the tsunami hit their Sinalei resort located on Samoa's southern coastline.

The group then witnessed the bodies of three young children wash towards them.

Speaking to Dargaville and Districts News, Collen Preston said her son found three little children dead.

"He is just traumatised".

"My son noticed early this morning that the tide had gone right out so he organised for the group to run to higher ground and they watched as the tsunami hit."

Ms Preston believes the group were not warned that a tsunami was coming.

"Most of the hotel they were staying at was washed away."


An unspecified number of fatalities and injuries were reported in the Samoan village of Talamoa. New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.

"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out," Ansell told New Zealand's National Radio from a hill near Samoa's capital, Apia. "There's not a building standing. We've all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need 'round here."

Wellingtonian John Elsmore, who was in Samoa for a surfing holiday, was up on a hill in Siumu when the quake struck.

"We looked out to sea and the water drawing off the reef, the reef got fully exposed.''

The 27-year-old then watched as the surge came ashore and ripped through resorts such as Coconuts Resort and Maninoa Surf Camp.

"Everything's completely destroyed... the place is devastated.''

He said bodies of those who had died lay under trees.

"Everyone's just trying to gather stuff up. A lot of the locals have just stayed up on the hills.''


Filming of a new season of Survivor: Samoa – the second in a row to be filmed on Samoa’s Upolu Island – was not affected by the tsunami.

A CBS spokesperson said: “Everyone's okay. Survivor crew are okay and filming was not affected.”

Around 400 Survivor crew controversially took over Aggie Grey’s Lagoon to film two back-to-back seasons of the hit reality show

- By reporters with AP, AAP, Reuters, NZPA

- Stuff


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