'90 percent' of island's housing destroyed

Houses on the coastline of Samoa were totally flattened by the tsunami. Photo / NZDF
Houses on the coastline of Samoa were totally flattened by the tsunami. Photo / NZDF

APIA, Samoa - The unofficial death toll from the Samoan tsunami has reached 149 amid more stories of devastation.

In Tonga a boat carrying emergency supplies is due to arrive on the Tongan island of Toputapu at 6pm.

Prime Minister Feleti Vaka'uta Sevele's press secretary Lopeti Senituli told nzherald.co.nz "about 90 per cent" of the island's housing had been destroyed.

Nine people have so far been confirmed dead on the island.

Toputapu, with a population of 1000, is closer to Samoa than the main island of Tonga - Tongatapu.

Mr Senituli said three people are missing and four have serious injuries after three waves with an average height of six metres crashed into the island yesterday morning.

FACT BOX

Death toll: 149
Samoa: 110
American Samoa: 30
Tonga: 9

**Upolu: 70 villages of 300-800 people destroyed

**American Samoa: 2200 people in seven shelters across the island

**Red Cross estimate 32,000 affected by tsunami

**Damage caused by four 25 foot waves

**Three Australians confirmed dead

**Two New Zealanders confirmed dead, one missing, 19 injured


View Samoa earthquake in a larger map

Samoa

In Samoa police searched a ghastly landscape of mud-strewn streets, pulverized homes and bodies scattered in a swamp today as dazed survivors emerged from the muck and mire of the earthquake and tsunami.

Military transports flew medical personnel, food, water and medicine to Samoa and American Samoa, both devastated by a tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake. A cargo plane from New Zealand brought in a temporary morgue and a body identification team.

Officials expect the death toll to continue to climb as more areas are searched. Among the hardest hit areas was the southeast coast of Samoa, with authorities reporting that several tourist resorts were wiped out.

Stories of survival

Survivors fled to higher ground on the islands after the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at 6:48 a.m. local time (1:48 p.m. EDT; 1748 GMT) Tuesday. The residents then were engulfed by four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high that reached up to a mile (1.5 kilometers) inland.

The waves splintered houses and left cars and boats - many battered and upside down - scattered about the coastline. Debris as small as a spoon and as large as a piece of masonry weighing several tons were strewn in the mud.

Survivors told harrowing tales of encountering the deadly tsunami.

"I was scared. I was shocked," said Didi Afuafi, 28, who was on a bus when the giant waves came ashore on American Samoa. "All the people on the bus were screaming, crying and trying to call their homes. We couldn't get on cell phones. The phones just died on us. It was just crazy."

With the water approaching fast, the bus driver sped to the top of a nearby mountain, where 300 to 500 people were gathered, including patients evacuated from the main hospital. Among them were newborns with IVs, crying children and frightened elderly people.

A family atop the mountain provided food and water, while clergymen led prayers. Afuafi said people are still on edge and feared another quake.

"This is going to be talked about for generations," said Afuafi, who lives just outside the village of Leone, one of the hardest hit areas.

On Samoa, the two-hour drive from the Apia airport to the heavily damaged southeast coast initially showed no sign of damage before becoming little more than a link between one flattened village after another. Mattresses hung from trees, and utility poles were bent at awkward angles.

Scenes of devastation

Three of the key resorts on the coast are scenes of "total devastation" while a fourth "has a few units standing on higher ground," Nynette Sass of Samoa's National Disaster Management committee told New Zealand's National Radio on Thursday.

Dr. Ben Makalavea from Apia's main hospital told the broadcaster that some couples can't find their children, and fear they may have been washed out to sea. "One woman we saw was so confused that she doesn't even know where she comes from," he said.

Makalavea added that the hospital needs nurses, doctors, surgeons and blood to treat the increasing numbers of casualties with broken bones and cuts.

Relief efforts

Red Cross relief workers were providing food, clothes and water to thousands of homeless now camping in the wooded hills above the coast. Volunteer Futi Mauigoa said water was already in short supply.

"Tonight they are all going to be back up the hills because the air out here is not really healthy for them," he said of the rotting stench in the disaster area.

At Sale Ataga village, more than 50 police, some wearing masks to filter out some of the growing stink of decay in the steamy conditions, searched for bodies underneath uprooted trees and palms piled up at the foot of a mountain.

Tony Fauena, a 29-year-old taro farmer, said the bodies of his 35-year-old niece and her 6-month-old son were found Tuesday but four other family members were still missing. "We don't know if the rest are under there or released out to sea," he said.

Faletolu Senara Tiatia said nine family members including his sister had been confirmed dead and more than 20 others, including aunts and cousins, were missing from the Lalomanu village area - epicenter of the devastation on Samoa's Upolu Island south coast.

"I'm very sad, it's the worst nightmare of my life," Tiatia told the Christchurch Press newspaper Thursday as he packed to fly to Samoa for the funerals.

Suavai Ioane was rattled by the violent earthquake that shook Voutosi, a village of 600 people. But he didn't have much time to calm down. Ioane was carried by a wave about 80 yards (meters) inland. He knew he was lucky to be alive; eight bodies were found in a nearby swamp.

Tonga

In Tonga, Mr Senituli said the waves practically flattened two of Toputapu's three villages. The government dispatched a boat with supplies to the island to help its more than 1,000 residents.

American Samoa

In Pago Pago, the streets and fields were filled with debris, mud, overturned cars and boats. Several buildings in the city - just a few feet (a meter) above sea level - were flattened. Power was expected to be out in some areas for up to a month and officials said some 2,200 people were in seven shelters across the island.

The waves lifted a building housing a hardware store and carried it inland across a two-lane highway. Crews later found the two employees in the debris.

"To me it was like a monster - just black water coming to you. It wasn't a wave that breaks, it was a full force of water coming straight," said Luana Tavale, a territorial government employee. "It was scary, like I'm going to get you."

- AP, NZ HERALD STAFF

- NZ Herald

How you can help

Pacific Cooperation Foundation
Deposits can be made at at any Westpac branch. All the money raised will go to the Samoan Government

Red Cross
- Make a secure online donation at redcross.org.nz
- Send cheques to the Samoan Red Cross Fund, PO Box 12140, Thorndon, Wellington 6144
- Call 0900 31 100 to make an automatic $20 donation
- Make a donation at any NZ Red Cross office

ANZ bank Make a donation at any ANZ bank branch, or donate directly to the ANZ appeal account: 01 1839 0143546 00 Oxfam
- Make a secure online donation at oxfam.org.nz
- Phone 0800 400 666 or make an automatic $20 donation by calling 0900 600 20

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