A journalist with the Samoan Observer describes the fear and heartbreak as the terrible events unfolded
It started as just another working day. But it transformed into one I shall never forget.
I drove with dead bodies in my car, helped carry dead people, weaved through wreckage on badly damaged roads, searched for doctors and aided tourists stranded with no money or possessions.
It began with the rude wake-up call from the earthquake. At dawn, Fagali'i began shaking like never before.
Evacuation procedures meant I had to quickly get my children and family to a government-designated building. And then the tsunami struck.
Heading to Poutasi, a resident spotted the Samoa Observer vehicle, and pointed to the destruction the waves had left.
"Take a look over there, everything has been wiped. There is a road there at the school which will be able to take you down to the beach. The bridge was broken."
This is the bridge which connects Poutasi.
"It was blown away like a piece of stick," another villager said.
Poutasi was a wreck. Cars tossed everywhere, fishing boats piled on the road and the school building partly destroyed.
Closer to the beach, houses were flattened. Family homes disappeared. There was debris everywhere.
"We didn't have time to run," a resident called Ioane said. "It just came and took everything.
"After the earthquake, there were people who hesitated but there were also people who just got out of their houses and ran. The wave was about four metres high. It was fast, it was strong."
Many lives were lost.
"My mother survived because I told her to hang on to our house and don't let go," said Talanoa Magele, 40.
"I was standing inside my store when I saw the wave. I just yelled out to everyone to run. I told my mum not to leave the house but hold on to the blocks as much as she can. My other brother helped her.
"I survived because I ran to the coconut tree, climbed up and hung on for life."
His mother survived, but many more died. Among them was the wife of Poutasi's paramount chief, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale.
"She was found under a pile of things," Mr Magele said, "We are very sad. He is a respected man in the village and she was a wonderful woman."
Not far from Mr Magele's house, members of another family were combing through the wreckage hoping to find their grandmother.
What villagers were able to find quickly, however, was plenty of dead fish. Young men were walking around with large snapper and anae, and cans of herring and corned beef.
"This is our present from the tsunami," one said, waving his can of pisupo.
Heading towards Lalomanu, we heard the hospital needed immediate help to cope with the injured. At Salani bridge two tourists stood wearing shorts and nothing else. They had lost everything except their passports.
"I'm a doctor from Sydney and I was wondering if you knew of somewhere where I can be of help?" said the first. His friend, he said, was also a doctor.
We continued to Lalomanu. Nothing prepared me for what I saw next.
All the tourist areas disappeared. They were cleaned out along with family homes there. Rental cars were thrown everywhere, some upside down in the middle of the road.
"I think that was a dead baby," my Australian friends at the back of the car said. So we stopped.
An elderly man approached us for help. He asked if we could take the baby to the hospital, but he was already gone.
"We've just found him," the man said.
"He's the son of another woman that was seriously injured and she's at the hospital."
We came across another corpse further down the road, and lifted it into the back of my truck.
At the Lalomanu hospital, it was chaos. Corpses covered by lavalava lay everywhere. The Australian doctors got to work immediately to help the injured.
The Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, walked around the hospital, speaking to as many people as possible.
But he had arrived just in time to witness a truck being loaded with dead bodies, destined for the morgue, or private funeral parlours.
"Please take care of their bodies," one woman yelled out. "They are precious to us."
Back at Lalomanu Beach, young boys were combing through the wreckage, scavenging for any valuables they could find.
One had found a bottle of Jim Beam.
"There could be more than 50 people killed," a Lalomanu man said. "I think many tourists are dead."
While it was too soon to know whether that fear was a reality, the number of missing, according to one local, was "uncountable".By Mata'afa Keni Lesa
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
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