Entire villages wiped out as death toll climbs

Whole villages on the Samoan coast have reportedly been wiped out by this morning's tsunami.

Health workers in Samoa reported over 100 dead with many more missing or unaccounted for, following this morning's 8.3 magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami. That number is expected to soar.

Horror Stories

Horror stories are emerging of the scene along the Samoan coastline.

One nzherald.co.nz reader received a short-wave radio message from relatives in the low-lying village of Salesatele, saying that "37 bodies have been found".

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."

An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of about 20 victims in a hospital on the main island of Upolu and said the surrounding tourist coast was devastated.

An unspecified number of fatalities and injuries were reported in the Samoan village of Talamoa.

Interactive map of the affected area


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Hampered by power and communications outages, officials are struggling to assess the casualties and damage.

New Zealander Scott Mulholland, a telecommunications worker in the Samoan capital of Apia, says the death toll is rising by the hour.

"The big thing is now more bodies are washing up," he told Newstalk ZB. "The last count that I heard - there's been over 100 found on the southern coast. And they are expecting more."

Samoan journalist Cherelle Jackson reported a scene of devastation as she drove around the worst affected parts of the island.

Ms Jackson drove 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 destroyed, so people were accessing it by walking through a small stream.

She said health workers had reported over 100 deaths.

"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.

International death toll

Ms Jackson also confirmed tourist resorts along the coast of Upolu had been wiped out.

The New Zealand Government has confirmed one death with three injured.

The Sydney Morning Herald website reports a 50-year-old Australian woman has died and three Australians were hurt.

The Korean Government also confirmed the deaths of three nationals.

The Quake

Towering tsunami waves spawned by the powerful earthquake swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early today.

Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning waters as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later.

The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 32 kilometres below the ocean floor, 190 kilometres from American Samoa, a US territory that is home to 65,000 people, and 200 kilometres from Samoa.

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

Tales of devastation

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.

The owner of Apia's Iliili Resort, Daniela Brussani, says she and her business partner fled by car to a hill, where they watched the destruction on Upolu take place.

"I look at the back, saw the big wave arrive - a big wave - six of seven metres."

Ms Brussani said her resort was now under two metres of water.

Another resort owner, Mataio, says the sea disappeared before his eyes.

He said after the earthquake hit this morning he sat down and had a smoke but then had only five minutes to pack a bag and run for safety.

Mataio said he if he did not have a car, he would not be alive now.

American Samoa

Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 1/2 to 6 metres) high roared ashore soon afterwards, reaching up to a mile (1.6 kilometres) inland.

Bundock said Reynolds and another park service staffer had been able to locate only a fifth of the park's 13 to 15 employees and 30 to 50 volunteers.

The National Park of American Samoa is the only national park south of the equator, a scenic expanse of reefs, picturesque beaches, tropical forests and wildlife that include sea turtles and flying foxes, a type of fruit bat.

Residents in both Samoa and American Samoa reported being shaken awake by the quake, which lasted two to three minutes.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a general alert from American Samoa to New Zealand; Tonga suffered some coastal damage from 4-metre-high waves.

Mase Akapo, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in American Samoa, said at least 14 people were killed in four different villages on the main island of Tutuila, while 20 people died neighbouring Samoa.

The initial quake was followed by at three aftershocks of at least 5.6 magnitude.

- AP, NZ HERALD STAFF, NZPA, AAP

* MFAT says 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.

Click here to donate to the Red Cross' Samoa earthquake/tsunami appeal.

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