APIA, Samoa -- Disaster officials rushed food, medicine and
a temporary morgue to the Samoas on Wednesday after a powerful
earthquake unleashed a tsunami that flattened villages and swept
cars and people out to sea. At least 99 people were killed.
Survivors fled the waves for higher ground on the South Pacific
islands after the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at 6:48 a.m. local
time (1:48 p.m. EDT; 1748 GMT) Tuesday.
Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high roared
ashore on American Samoa about 15 minutes after the quake, reaching
up to a mile (1.5 kilometers) inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent
of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying by a
parks service spokeswoman.
Military transports carrying medical personnel, food, water,
medicines and other supplies were headed to the stricken islands.
Right now, we're focused on bringing in the assistance for
people that have been injured, and for the immediate needs of the
tens of thousands of survivors down there, said Federal Emergency
Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate. A Coast Guard C-130
plane loaded with aid and carrying FEMA officials was headed from
Hawaii to American Samoa's capital of Pago Pago, where debris had
been cleared from runways to allow for emergency planes to land.
I cannot tell you exactly what kind of damages we had. We're
getting reports just like everyone else that this is a significant
impact, he said.
New Zealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English said tents,
stretchers, the temporary morgue facilities and a body
identification team were sent to Samoa after a specific request
from local officials, who are are very concerned about the
growing death toll.
The quake was centered about 120 miles south of the islands of
Samoa, which has about 220,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S.
territory of 65,000.
Another strong underwater earthquake rocked western Indonesia on
Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Samoan quake, briefly
triggering a tsunami alert for countries along the Indian Ocean.
The 7.6-magnitude quake toppled buildings, cut power and triggered
a landslide on Sumatra island, and at least 75 people were reported
killed. Experts said the seismic events were not related.
The Samoan capital, Apia, was virtually deserted by afternoon,
with schools and businesses closed. Hours after the waves struck,
sirens rang out with another tsunami alert and panicked residents
headed for higher ground again, although there was no indication of
a new quake.
In Pago Pago, the streets and fields were filled with ocean
debris, mud, overturned cars and several boats as a massive cleanup
effort stretched into the night. Several buildings in the city --
just a few feet above sea level -- were flattened. Power was
expected to be out in some areas for up to a month.
President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster for
American Samoa. Obama said in a statement early Wednesday that he
and his wife, Michelle, will keep those who have lost so much in
our thoughts and prayers.
Hampered by power and communications outages, officials in the
South Pacific islands struggled to determine damage and casualties.
Hundreds of people bombarded American Samoa's radio stations
with requests that they announce the names of their missing loved
ones in hopes they could be found. Radio stations responded with
announcements urging listeners to contact their families
Water service has been restored to many villages, but power is
still out in most areas. More than 1,000 people spent the night in
15 emergency shelters.

Samoan police commissioner Lilo Maiava told The Associated Press
that police had confirmed 63 deaths but devastated areas were still
being searched.
At least 30 people were killed on American Samoa, Gov. Togiola
Tulafono said, adding that the toll was expected to rise from
searches by emergency crews.
I don't think anybody is going to be spared in this
disaster, said Tulafono, who was in Hawaii for a conference. He
added that a member of his extended family was among the dead.
Authorities in Tonga, southwest of the Samoas, confirmed at
least six dead and four missing, according to English.
Joey Cummings of radio station 93KHJ in Pago Pago told the BBC
that he and his colleagues watched from a balcony as a 15-foot
tsunami wave struck, and the air was filled with screams.
He yelled for people to run uphill, but they just ran down the
street away from the wave rather than make a sharp left and up the
steep mountain just feet away.
A river of mud carried trees, cars, buses and boats past his
building, which is practically at sea level, Cummings told the BBC.
Some people searched for trapped survivors, he said, but others
looted stores. Bodies were stacked in the back of pickup trucks, he
Alex Godinet, chief of staff for American Samoa's congressional
delegate, said his whole house and everything was shaking. When
he went to the nearby village of Leone, the tsunami wave had
already struck and receded.
People, elders were trying to crawl all over the place, crawl
up to higher place, higher areas, he told NBC's Today show.
All 65 employees at the National Park of American Samoa were
accounted for, although at least one of them lost a home, said
Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service's Pacific
West Region in Oakland, Calif. The park service employs 13
permanent workers and between 30 and 50 volunteers, depending on
the time of year.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said three
Australians were among the dead. The British Foreign Office said
one Briton was missing and presumed dead.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi looked shaken
as he flew from Auckland, New Zealand, to Apia.
So much has gone. So many people are gone, he told reporters
on board. I'm so shocked, so saddened by all the loss.
Malielegaoi said his own village of Lepa was destroyed.
Thankfully, the alarm sounded on the radio and gave people
time to climb to higher ground, he said. But not everyone
Tulafono said that because the closeness of the community in
American Samoa, each and every family is going to be affected by
someone who's lost their life. He spoke to reporters in Hawaii
before boarding the Coast Guard C-130 plane with the FEMA
A New Zealand P3 Orion maritime surveillance airplane had
reached the region Wednesday and had searched for survivors off the
coast, he said.
The Samoa Red Cross estimated that 15,000 people were affected
by the tsunami.
New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the Samoan 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 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.
Residents of both Samoa and American Samoa said they were shaken
awake by Tuesday's quake, which lasted two to three minutes and was
centered about 20 miles (30 kilometers) below the ocean floor. It
was followed by at least three large aftershocks of at least 5.6
The quake came Tuesday morning for the Samoas, which lie just
east of the international dateline. For Asia-Pacific countries on
the other side of the line, it was already Wednesday.
American Samoa's dominant industry -- tuna canning -- was also
affected. Chicken of the Sea's packing plant was forced to close,
although the facility wasn't damaged, the San Diego-based company
The effects of the tsunami could be felt nearly 5,000 miles away
(7,500 kilometers) on a Japanese island, though there were no
reports of damage or injuries there.
U.S. officials said strong currents and dangerous waves were
forecast from California to Washington state. No major flooding was
expected, however.
While the earthquake and tsunami were big, they were not on the
same scale of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, said Brian Atwater of
the U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle. That tsunami killed more
than 230,000 in a dozen countries across Asia.
Although the quakes in the Samoas and Indonesia struck within 24
hours of each other, experts said there was no link between them.
When you look at that, it's like, 'Oh something's going on
there.' But researchers are convinced that because quakes are
essentially a random process that they're not related, said Don
Blakeman, an analyst for the U.S.-based National Earthquake
Information Center.
Various factors explain why the Samoa earthquake caused a
massive tsunami and the Indonesia quake, with a magnitude of 7.6,
did not.
The difference in magnitude was one factor, Blakeman said. It
also has to do with the depth of earthquakes. The Samoan one was
very shallow. The Sumatran one, I think, was about 80 kilometers
(49 miles).

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