More than 110 dead in tsunami-hit Samoa

19:08, Oct 07 2009
tsunami samoa
A main road in the downtown area of Fagatogo, is seen flooded by water from a tsunami located in the main town area in American Samoa.
Christopher Moore of NOAA looks at computer graphs at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
A car is seen pushed up against a bridge after strong sea water from the tsunami filled a small stream in the village of Fagatogo, located in the main town area in American Samoa.
A boat from Malaloa Marina is seen on the edge of the main highway in the village of Fagatogo, in American Samoa.
tsunami samoa
Sinalei Resort in Samoa after the tsunami hit.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoan Tsunami screengrab
Screengrab taken from footage of the aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
Samoa tsunami
Picture taken in Samoa following the tsunami.
Samoa tsunami
Picture taken in Samoa following the tsunami.
Samoa tsunami
Picture taken in Samoa following the tsunami.
Samoa tsunami
Scene of devastation following the tsunami in Samoa.
Samoa tsunami
Scene of devastation following the tsunami in Samoa.
Samoa tsunami
Scene of devastation following the tsunami in Samoa.
Samoa tsunami
Scene of devastation following the tsunami in Samoa.
The tsunami swept through Leone, American Samoa
UNDER WATER: The tsunami swept through Leone, American Samoa.
A ute comes to rest after the earthquake
STRANDED: A ute comes to rest after the earthquake and tsunami struck Leone, American Samoa.
Homes have been turned to rubble
DESTRUCTION: Homes have been turned to rubble after earthquake and tsunami hit Leone, American Samoa.
 Personal belongings lie strewen around in the aftermath of the tsunami
SCATTERED: Personal belongings lie strewen around in the aftermath of the tsunami in Leone, American Samoa.
Villagers assess the damege in Leone, American Samoa.
RETURNING: Villagers assess the damege in Leone, American Samoa.
A fale sits in the middle of surrounding destruction.
STILL STANDING: A fale sits in the middle of surrounding destruction.
Tsunami wave
WAVES OF DESTRUCTION: Tsunami waves approach American Samoa's Tafuna International Airport in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Mary Ann White
VICTIM: Mary Ann White, one of the New Zealanders killed after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Samoa. Mrs White was on holiday with her husband and friends at the time.
samoa tsunami
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in American Samoa.
samoa tsunami
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
The aftermath of the tsunami in Samoa.
samoa tsunami
Police search for bodies behind the Boomerang resort, Samoa, which was completely destroyed by the tsunami.
samoa tsunami
Devastation around Aleipata, in Samoa, caused by the tsunami.
samoa tsunami
A boat left high and dry in the village of Poutasi in Samoa.
samoa tsunami
An old woman talks on the phone about the destruction of her village, Saletata, in Samoa.
samoa tsunami
6-year-old Michael Suafai managed to retrieve his toy truck after his home in the Samoan village of Saletata was destroyed by yesterdays tsunami.
samoa tsunami
What remains of the Seabreeze Resort in Samoa after the tsunami.
FROM THE GROUND UP: Only one building remains in the resort area of Aleipata. "This was a major moment for the world and for Samoa,'' says Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele.
Lalomanu
Wrecked cars litter the resort area of Aleipata, in Samoa.
Aleipata
The grim search for bodies on the beach at the resort area of Aleipata in Samoa.
Saita Eti
Saita Eti had a lucky escape when he tried to drive his vehicle away from the flooding by the tsunami and ended up floating 100 metres away, here. He was rescued from the cab unhurt.
Samoa tsunami destruction
The body of a boy is taken from Lalomanu beach.
Samoan police carry the body of a tsumani victim found in the water near Matavai on the Samoa's southern coast.
Samoan police carry the body of a tsumani victim found in the water near Matavai on the Samoa's southern coast.
A man carrying his child walks past a boat that was washed ashore in Pago Pago Harbour, American Samoa.
A man carrying his child walks past a boat that was washed ashore in Pago Pago Harbour, American Samoa.
Samoa tsunami devastastion
A Samoan man walks through debris of his neighbourhood near Lalomanu.
Samoa tsunami devastastion
The scene in the tsunami-damaged village of Vaigalu on Samoa's southern coast.
Samoa Murray McCully
JUST A MEMORY: New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, in Samoa to help coordinate the New Zeakland relief effort, looks at the devastation on Lalomanu beach where he holidayed three months ago. All that is left of the resort where he stayed is a wrecked restaurant sign.
Petria Martin
GRAVE FEARS: Petria Martin, team leader at Matamata sports centre. Foreign Affairs holds grave fears for her.
Tautua Eteuati and Tauaavaga Tupuola
SWEPT AWAY: Tautua Eteuati, left, was holding Tauaavaga Tupuola, right, when she was swept away.
Vaalele Eti with the sign to the village of Vaigalu
Vaalele Eti with the sign to the village of Vaigalu.
Samoa tsunami devastastion
The stench of rotting flesh is overpowering along the stretch of coast devastated by the Tsunami.
General Jerry Mataparae
Head of Samoa's army, General Jerry Mataparae, at Lalomanu beach.

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 editorial@stuff.co.nz

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.

» View interactive map
» Video: Cameraman describes havoc
» New Zealand downgrades tsunami alert
» Sea disappeared, then swallowed Samoa resort
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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.

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.

NEW ZEALAND'S RESPONSE

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.

SCENE OF DEVSTATION:

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 Stuff.co.nz 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.

 

TRAUMATISED

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."

VILLAGE FLATTENED

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.''

SURVIVOR: SAMOA

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 Stuff.co.nz reporters with AP, AAP, Reuters, NZPA

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