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Pacific Tsunami: Countries Hit

By Sue Richards last modified Sep 30, 2009 08:10 PM

Published: 2009-09-30 20:10:11
Topics: Weather
Countries: American Samoa , Samoa , Tonga

As reported by BBC News

A number of countries were hit by a tsunami triggered by a strong earthquake in the South Pacific. At least 77 people were reported dead in Samoa, more than 25 in American Samoa and at least six in Tonga. Residents and tourists fled to higher ground as whole villages were destroyed. Boats were swept inland and cars and people out to sea.

The 8.3-magnitude quake struck at 1748 GMT on Tuesday, generating 15ft (4.5m) waves in some areas of the islands.

The Samoa islands comprise two separate entities - the nation of Samoa and American Samoa, a US territory. The total population is about 250,000. A general tsunami warning was issued for the wider South Pacific region but was cancelled a few hours later.

Separately on Wednesday a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck a different fault line off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, killing at least 13 people.

The prime minister of Samoa, Tuila'epe Sailele Malielegaoi, said the latest death toll there was 77, including four overseas visitors, with 150 more people being treated in hospital. He said he was shocked at the devastation. "So much has gone. So many people are gone," he told Australia's AAP news agency.

He said there had been extensive damage but that hospitals were coping well and that he was considering aid offers from New Zealand and Australia. "Had it happened in darkness, there could have been more disaster in terms of the number of those who died or are missing," he said.

US President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in American Samoa, enabling federal funding to be made available to help victims. He pledged a "swift and aggressive" government response.

Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa in the US Congress, said the waves had "literally wiped out all the low-lying areas in the Samoan islands". He said the tsunami had struck too quickly for a full evacuation. Samoa's Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni told AAP that the ocean had receded, heralding the oncoming tsunami, "within five minutes" of the quake. "With the location and the intensity... I don't know if anything better could have been done."

Officials at the Samoa Meteorology Division said many of those who died were killed by a second wave after they went to gather fish that had been washed up after the first.

Mr Telefoni said there were fears the major tourism areas on the west side of Upolu island - the eastern of the two main Samoan islands - had been badly hit. "We've had a pretty grim picture painted of all that coast," he said.

Samoan officials say it could take a week before the full extent of the damage is known.

A government official in Tonga said at least six people had been killed there and four more were missing. High waves damaged property and swept cars out to sea. But New Zealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English said Tongan officials had told him a "considerable number of people" had been swept out to sea. Mr English added: "Over the next 12 hours the picture could look worse rather than better."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) said the quake struck at a depth of 33km (20 miles), some 190km (120 miles) from Apia. Radio New Zealand quoted Samoan residents as saying that villages were inundated and homes and cars swept away. Graeme Ansell, a New Zealander near Apia, told the radio station the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale had been "wiped out". "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 around here," he said.

Witnesses have reported scenes of destruction.

"It's horrible... The village is gone and my once beautiful beachfront villa has now been submerged in water," Josh Nayangu told the BBC after fleeing the area on a small fishing boat with his wife and son.

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