Devastation as tsunami wipes out Samoan villages

By Cherelle Jackson, Vaimoana Tapaleao

The confirmed number of deaths in Samoa following this morning's magnitude 8.3 earthquake and tsunami is expected to rise as rescue teams make their way to the worst affected areas.

The quake struck at 6.48am NZ time and was centred 200 kilometres from Samoa's capital Apia at a depth of 35 kilometres.

Officials in American Samoa say at least 14 people have been killed there and Talutala Mauala, the secretary general of the Red Cross in Samoa, told AFP his organisation was on its way to Upolu Island's south coast "where our people have told us of 11 deaths and we heard on the radio of another three".

There are unconfirmed reports that 40 people from the Samoan village of Lalomanu - on the south-eastern end of of Upolu - have been killed.

A New Zealand man called Radio Samoa in Auckland saying he had been in touch with his family in Lalomanu, who said up to 40 people had died.

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it is aware of reports that two New Zealanders were hospitalised in Samoa following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

An elderly woman and a pregnant woman who were staying at a resort near Lalomanu were suffering from shock but were not seriously injured, Fairfax Media reported.

MFAT said it was looking into the welfare of all New Zealanders in Samoa.

New Zealanders in Samoa were advised to follow any advice or instructions issued by the local authorities.

Samoan journalist Cherelle Jackson has driven from Apia to Poutasi - one of the villages said to be among the worst affected by the tsunami.

She said the peninsula village had been "totally flattened" and the road was destroyed so people were accessing it by walking through a small stream.

At least three people had been reported dead and another 15 injured in Poutasi, Ms Jackson said.

Most of the villagers were still sitting on higher ground but some had returned.

"People are trying to gather their belongings. There are only a few villagers and construction workers who brought bulldozers to clear the debris," Ms Jackson said.

"It's just devastated, not even a cyclone has done this to us."

The village school had been totally destroyed as well as all the houses, barring the church minister's house, she said.

"Cars have been thrown into the ocean and there are fish on the ground. I've never seen anything like this before in my life. It's sad."

Locals on the island of Savai'i, west of Upolu earlier reported that the sea had receded and no water was visible.

While everyone in the area was moved to higher ground, there were fears the water would return as a tsunami.

However a source told nzherald.co.nz some locals believed the island had in fact been pushed up by the earthquake.

He said the interisland ferry could reportedly no longer dock at Salelologa and was moored off-shore.

The man, who has family in the Samoan village of Malaela, on Upolu told nzherald.co.nz his cousin's neighbours had been killed in the tsunami.

"In our village of Malaela there have been fatalities - I was told at least 7-8 bodies recovered, and a number of people missing, including children," he said.

Other villages reportedly with many deaths include Vailoa and Aleipata - one of the worst hit villages.

A number of Australians have been injured in the aftermath of this morning's earthquake and tsunami, the Federal Government said.

"The early reports don't suggest that any of them are very serious, but they are in hospital," parliamentary secretary for international development assistance Bob McMullan told Sky News.

Australian consular officials in Samoa were at local hospitals to offer assistance, he said.

New Zealanders currently in Samoa are encouraged to make contact with friends and family in New Zealand to allay any concerns.

The ministry said New Zealanders concerned about family members in Samoa should try to make contact with them in the first instance.

Those with ongoing concerns could call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 04 439 8000, with as many contact details as possible.

- with NZ HERALD STAFF, NZPA, AP, AAP

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